I never thought I’d willingly sit through a vile propaganda film that should make my stomach turn, but when Metro Weekly offered to pay me to review 80 for Brady (★★★☆☆) I realized I could get beer money to trash Thomas Edward Patrick Brady, Jr. with an unparalleled, snarky, irrational bitchiness that would make Ben Shapiro blush, and that felt like a fair exchange of goods and services.
Based on the true story of octogenarian superfans of the New England Patriots — and specifically, Tom Brady — Lou (Lily Tomlin), Trish (Jane Fonda), Maura (Rita Moreno), and Betty (Sally Field) are best friends who bond over two decades through Brady’s professional career after Lou is diagnosed with cancer and the gang, commiserating with Lou, accidentally stumble upon the now-legendary game in which he took over for an injured Drew Bledsoe.
Lou’s cancer went into remission, but the squad continued getting together over the years to watch Brady, ogling him and the other square-jawed beefcakes in their tight pants. Lou is the host, Trish is the flirt, Maura is the recent widow, and Betty is the former MIT math professor who suffers the exasperating neurosis of her writer husband Mark (played by Bob Balaban, who, god bless him, does the best he can with this character).
The story is set at the conclusion of the 2016 NFL season, when the ladies brew up a longshot scheme to win tickets to Super Bowl 51, considered by many to be the greatest playoff game of all time, when Brady led the Pats to a complete fourth quarter comeback after being down 22 points.
But as the plan unfolds, it’s revealed that Lou’s cancer might be back, and suddenly, a fun-loving whim takes on the importance of a last wish. As the ladies work feverishly to get the tickets, they all confront the slow march of time in their own way, and it is that commonality that leads to them collectively washing their hair of current problems in pursuit of a quasi-horny obsession with Brady.
Is the premise particularly compelling? No. Is the writing good? Not really. Most of the jokes land with all the skill of a cocaine-fueled elephant swan diving into an empty pool, and even for a comedy, with all the grace extended in exchange for laughs, the dialogue sometimes has about as much charm as gargling broken glass.
There is an enormous waste of talent. For some odd reason, Patton Oswalt is cast but never gets to be funny, which is a minor crime in itself. Guy Fieri, internet saint by acclamation, tries his best to be charming but the writers have given him nothing to work with. Even the magnificent Billy Porter barely manages to salvage his scenes, delivering arguably the best part of the movie.
The narrative, huffing and panting, jogs from scene to scene, hoping to find storytelling resurgence and never quite getting there.
At one point, in desperation, the viewer must stare into an abyss of cringe as Lou gives Tom Brady the pep talk that inspires his comeback in the fourth quarter, which appears to be written by someone who isn’t sure if they want the audience to laugh or cry, and so, they settle on torturing us with schmaltz.
None of these critiques matter. None of them. Here are four big reasons: Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Rita Moreno, and Sally Field.
I love these women. I worship these women. I aspire to be these women. And when these women are involved in any project, I know I’m going to have a fun time.
Fonda’s Trish writes Patriots fan erotica (“Between a Gronk and a Hard Place”). Tomlin’s Lou can deadpan her way through the most atrocious scriptwriting and emerge unscathed. Watching Moreno’s Maura tripping balls on edibles is worth the price of admission alone. And no one has ever made a spicy chicken wing eating contest more charming than Field’s Betty.
This movie should not work. It’s ridiculous. It’s terribly made. But it does work because of the goodwill earned by these four women — all universally beloved in their own right — and the chemistry between them that makes every poorly written scene crackle with warmth.
It makes me wonder what other preposterous movies I would pay to sit through if they were involved. Maybe the next project can be about the fab foursome navigating the New York City sewer system or a documentary about the Internal Revenue Service. It doesn’t matter. I would run through a brick wall for any of these women, and so, on balance, sitting through a terrible movie isn’t asking much.
The producers know this, of course. It’s no accident that the marketing appears to be partially targeted at the LGBTQ community. They know we’ll show up for our de facto saints, and all four of these women have long been enshrined in the “Queer Icon Hall-of-Fame.” Had they managed to cast Dolly Parton, too, I guarantee this would be among the highest-grossing box office smashes of the year.
And that’s probably the biggest takeaway of 80 for Brady — a studio can make a terrible flick with mediocre writing about a widely-despised sports star, and as long as these four women are starring in it and having fun, even the most garish flaws can be overlooked.
Say what you will about Tom Brady (and say it loudly), but I found myself walking out of the theater with a smile on my face, feeling the opposite of deflated.
80 for Brady is playing at theaters nationwide. Visit www.fandango.com.
Charlotte Clymer is a 2023 GLAAD Media Award Nominee for Outstanding Blog. Read her at www.charlotteclymer.substack.com and follow her on Twitter at @cmclymer.
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