It’s easy to approach 80 For Brady with an air of cynicism. After all, Tom Brady producing a film about a group of adorable old ladies obsessed with how handsome and talented he is, during a time when Brady’s place in the popular consciousness is losing its luster, reeks of thinly veiled ulterior motives. And to be perfectly clear, 80 For Brady never transcends that transparent reason to exist. However, it’s also difficult to not be a little charmed by the main cast, even if the film they occupy is often aimless as a narrative and toothless as a comedy.
Loosely inspired by a real group of octogenarian ladies whose fandom for Brady brought them to the 2017 Super Bowl, 80 For Brady centers on the group’s shared love of the famed quarterback and the strength they found in his on-field performance while Lou (Lily Tomlin) was recovering from chemotherapy. Realizing that their time is short and that they may never have another opportunity to see Brady play in the Super Bowl, the ladies enter a radio contest to win tickets to the Big Game, sending them on an adventure that’s bigger than any of them expects and that goes far beyond the wisp of a true tale the film is based upon.
That’s not necessarily a knock against the film, but it’s certainly indicative of director Kyle Marvin’s lack of coherent vision for what 80 For Brady is supposed to be, aside from a palatable time-waster. Each of the principal cast has their own mini-arc with varying tangential relevance to the idea of old ladies getting into football-themed shenanigans. But any plotting the film has is mostly a contrivance to get from one comedic moment to the next, and there’s little consistency in how effectively that comedy is conveyed.
Though Sarah Haskins and Emily Halpern’s screenplay is never blatantly unfunny, the film never quite decides what it wants the audience to be amused by. An occasionally snappy or witty line of dialogue may provoke an isolated chuckle, but the film has trouble deciding whether its protagonists are supposed to be laughing with us or are the butt of the joke. Attempts at running gags, such as Betty’s (Sally Field) insistence that her fanny pack is actually a “strap-on,” never get funnier with repetition. Sometimes the tone is cute yet grounded, and other times it veers into hallucinatory drug fantasy, so it’s difficult to get a read on just how heightened the reality of the movie is supposed to be. More often than not, 80 For Brady is pushing for sight gags and relying on celebrity cameos to make up for its lack of wit, but palling around with Guy Fieri and Billy Porter is a poor substitute for actual jokes.
Thankfully, the main cast is talented enough that their genuine chemistry can gloss over the film’s many comedic shortcomings. Even though Lily Tomlin is saddled with a nonsensical hallucinatory connection with Tom Brady’s television likeness, she manages to hold the emotional core of the film together with enough grace that one can forget how far beneath her the material is. Sally Field’s Betty is an amusing take on the put-upon genius wife of an absent-minded husband (Bob Balaban), while Jane Fonda makes the diva Trish into a convincing lonely-in-love erotic author obsessed with Rob Gronkowski. The weakest link is, unfortunately, Rita Moreno’s Maura, who simultaneously has to balance being a grieving widow and a clueless tagalong in over her head. Yet Moreno is able to deliver what each scene needs, even if those scenes don’t add up to a complete character.
Ultimately, these four women are what save 80 For Brady from itself. For such a mediocre effort, it still manages to come across as watchable and charming because Tomlin, Field, Fonda, and Moreno are all such likable presences. The film is by no means distinctive, hilarious, or memorable in any way, but, for as cloying as this attempt at Brady brand rehabilitation could have been, it’s a testament to the magnetic appeal of ageless stars who know how to carry a film to the end zone.
80 For Brady opens theatrically on February 3, 2023.