I’ll admit, 80 For Brady did not seem like my cup of tea. In fact, it seemed so transparently not my cup of tea as to be the type of movie I generally avoid in order to let someone closer to the target audience opine over. And yet, if I could point to a reason that ultimately compelled me to see it anyway, it was to try to figure out who that target audience actually was.
80 For Brady stars the dream team of Sally Field, Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Rita Moreno, in the supposedly based-on-a-true-story of four seasoned ladies who took a bucket-list trip to Houston to see their favorite player Tom Brady play the Falcons in Super Bowl 51 (the 28-3 comeback one, from 2017). When I think of fans of Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda et al, I think of my mom, who could not care less about football and is probably only vaguely aware of Tom Brady. When I think of people who want to relive Super Bowl LI, I think Massholes, most of whom have probably never heard of Rita Moreno and probably still refer to Jane Fonda as “Hanoi Jane.”
Clearly, this movie, featuring the gals in Patriots jerseys on the poster, was produced with the full participation of the NFL (as well as Brady himself, credited as a producer). Presumably, that would make it some kind of puff piece for the league. And yet if that’s the case, why Brady? Most football fans I know are sick to death of Tom Brady, almost to the point that even I think they’re being a little unfair. People really seem to hate Touchdown Tom these days, who, as luck would have it, just recently played one of the worst playoff games of his career and got knocked out of the playoffs prior to 80 For Brady‘s release.
“Who is this even for?” is one of those questions culture critics love to ask. 80 For Brady, written by Booksmart screenwriters Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins and directed by The Climb producer Kyle Marvin, elevates “who is this for” to level of art, creating a new Zen unanswerable on the level of one hand clapping or the sound of a tree falling in the forest.
As the film began to roll, I was again hit with an overpowering waft of “probably not for me.” The gals were gathered in the living room of “Lou’s” house (Lily Tomlin), performing an elaborate pre-game superstition ritual involving “Betty” (Sally Field) standing halfway up a ladder and Lou flipping over a bowl of chips. The expository dialogue (“how many years have we been doing this now?” “At least since my husband died two years ago..”) seemed to have been loosely improvised, and the shots seemed somehow uncanny. For a movie about four ladies from Boston, it was also curiously absent any recognizable Boston accents — though possibly for the best, as later minor characters’ hammy attempts at them would suggest.
At first, I thought they were using a different, softer focus camera for all the Jane Fonda shots (she does look great for 85, though she’s buried under so much make-up, wigs, and glitter that it could’ve been David Spade under there), but as it went on it gradually dawned on me that there were rarely more than two of the main actors in the same room. This extended attempt to push the boundaries of the Kuleshov effect (shout out to the film studies majors) was only magnified further once the celebrity cameos kicked into high gear.
In the midst of this haphazard mashup of shots from different times and places, lots of the jokes seem half-delivered. Either aborted prematurely or built from set-ups that didn’t actually fit together — as if one line or two got flubbed or never delivered and no one bothered to fix it. One example I can remember sees Tomlin preparing to compete in a skills competition that involves sinking a football into some moving nets. Incidentally, this sequence begins with the extremely dubious line “Ooh, the NFL Super Bowl Experience, I’ve always wanted to go to this!” (…said no one ever).
Anyway, as Tomlin prepares at the throwing line of the game, a younger guy at the same booth says, “Dang, grandma, you look like you should be home knitting a sweater,” or something to that effect.
“You feeling pretty confident?” Moreno leans in to ask him.
Next thing you know, they’re taking bets on whether Lou can sink more balls. Now: how the hell did we get from knitting a sweater to “you feeling pretty confident?!”
It’s the movie that feels confident, just cutting this all together and assuming it will fly based on vibes alone. And it kind of does. You don’t really need photorealistic setups for jokes this corny. I couldn’t help but respect it.
There’s a cursory attempt to turn the gals into “types,” Sex And The City-style, along with a simultaneous endeavor to make this about the old gals showing the whippersnappers what’s what, Liam Neeson-style (with this much product placement, for everything from the NFL to Guy Fieri to Carmax, not to mention a handful of carefully image-managed star athletes making appearances, there must’ve been a lot of cooks in the kitchen). And so you’ll get about half a scene of Jane Fonda being like “I love men!” Samantha-style, and Sally Field doing something brainy, before it eventually descends into some kind of weird joke that seems to suggest old people have superpowers.
Not only does Lily Tomlin beat a young man at a football throwing contest (Tomlin’s character sometimes has a Boston accent and sometimes not, but always sounds like she has about three peppermints in her mouth when she’s talking), Sally Field wins a hot wing eating contest hosted by Guy Fieri. The apparent explanation? She was hungry. Old people be hungry, y’all!
Meanwhile, Fonda’s character writes “Gronk-themed erotica.” At one point doing a reading of her bestseller, Between A Gronk And A Hard Place, she also tosses off that she has an idea for a holiday-themed book, We Gronk You A Merry Christmas. Come on, man, that’s not even a play on words! And How The Gronk Stole Christmas was right there! Somewhere Chuck Tingle is watching this and can’t stop puking.
There’s a fun dose of nostalgia rewatching the exciting end of Super Bowl LI, and getting to do it from the perspective of Patriots fans, who I was rooting against hard the first time around. Brady has slightly improved as an actor, in that he actually feigns looking at other people in the scene now, though he’s still pretty terrible. Gronkowski, meanwhile, has his usual, seemingly effortless himbro charisma. Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman are also there. (Curiously absent? Cameos by any black players.)
80 For Brady was like a weird mushroom trip, and I found myself oddly fascinated by it all. In this jaded age of media saturation, we rarely credit wondering “how did they do that?” as a question that compels us to keep watching anymore. And yet, that question was as consistently on my mind during 80 for Brady as it was during Avatar. Which actors were actually in the room during this scene? Which parts of this were shot on location and which in a makeshift studio six months later? What lines used to be in this scene that someone forgot or flubbed and the director was too polite to ask them to redo them?
The hallmark of these “old timers kickin’ butt” movies is that they’re always kind of patronizing. That’s why it’s usually a little sad to see the aging titans of stage, screen, and comedy starring in movies where one of the jokes is them taking the wrong prescription pill (these movies always, ALWAYS include at least one of this gag, 80 For Brady has two). The beauty of 80 for Brady is that it manages to communicate, entirely through construction and subtext, that Fonda, Tomlin, Moreno, and the gang, actually are too good for this. “You already got the shot, Kevin,” you can imagine one of them telling director Kyle Haskins as he gently pleads for another take.
Let Touchdown Tom stumble through his lines with the stand-in, the ladies are taking lunch.
’80 For Brady’ hits theaters everywhere February 3. Vince Mancini is on Twitter. You can read more of his reviews here.