Resistance is futile: The ladies of “80 for Brady” have been mesmerizing us with the fascinating, flawed, but always vibrantly human characters they’ve portrayed for a combined more than two centuries, along with many Oscars, Tonys, and Emmys. They bring everything they’ve learned to this irresistible film from director Kyle Marvin, inspired by the true story of four octogenarians whose devotion to each other is matched by their devotion to NFL quarterback Tom Brady. It’s a Cinderella story with four fairy godmothers, but instead of ugly step-sisters forcing them to do housework, these women are confronting the indignities of aging and the limits of mortality. Speaking of magical interventions, the film is produced by Tom Brady, who plays himself and has a very engaging screen presence.
When a local radio station promises four Super Bowl tickets to anyone who comes up with the best story, Trish (Jane Fonda), Lou (Lily Tomlin), Betty (Sally Field), and Maura (Rita Moreno) decide it’s their chance to take a break from the various complications of their lives and go on a wild adventure to see their beloved Tommy in the 2017 Super Bowl.
Trish, who writes erotic fan fiction about Brady’s teammate Rob Gronkowski, falls in love too easily and is recovering from her latest broken heart. Lou is afraid to open the email from the hospital to find out whether her cancer has returned. Betty, a retired MIT professor, loves her husband (Bob Balaban), but attending to his neediness is making her feel erased. And Maura is still mourning the loss of her late husband.
It all began 16 years earlier, when Lou was getting chemo treatments for cancer, and her friends came together to help her. The television got stuck on a 2001 game between the Patriots and the Jets. A then-lesser player named Tom Brady was called off the bench, beginning one of the most storied careers in sports history. Now it’s an annual tradition for the women to get together in their team jerseys to watch the game. Like many avid sports fans, they’re superstitious and begin watching the first game of each season just as they did the first time, with Betty on a ladder changing a light bulb and Lou knocking over the potato chips.
One can sit back, relax, and enjoy “80 for Brady,” understanding that nothing here makes sense in terms like “might happen” or even “should happen.” Just as all fairy tales should, this movie lives in the land of “wouldn’t it be wonderful.” How about a dance number? Yes! And a little romance? Do you have to ask? Harry Hamlin is debonair, and Glynn Turman is utterly charming. For others in the crowd: Are there some colorful guest stars? Yes! Billy Porter! Guy Fieri! An update during the end credits? Of course. What about clips from exciting moments in football games? Yep!
Far more important than the questions “Does any of this make sense?” and “Are there any surprises in the storyline?” are the questions, “It is fun to watch?” Yes! “Does it give each of these fabulous actors a chance to shine?” Yes, yes, yes, and yes. With a screenplay by “Booksmart“‘s Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins, a lot happens and things move fast, so the parts that don’t work well are over quickly.
These pros are superb scene partners, and the ensemble scenes are among the highlights. And each makes the most of her solo moments. Moreno lights up the screen in a high-stakes poker game and her masterfully underplayed negotiation with a scalper. Field takes what could be a dreary character and makes us see her vulnerability and integrity; she even makes an extremely dumb joke about calling a fanny pack “a strap-on” work. Her insistence that she’s not an “80” for Brady since she is still in her 70s is not about vanity; it’s about her dedication to mathematic precision.
Meanwhile, Lou struggles with secrets about her health and how the trip came together but relishes her role as the one who inspires the others, including Brady himself. Fonda brings warmth to the thinnest-written role. While a disrespectful character calls the four women “Golden Girls,” she is not a one-note “isn’t it cute that an old lady likes sex” joke. Rather, she’s a tender-hearted but resilient optimist who has been re-inventing herself since she got too old for her job as a spokesmodel for a car dealer. And Fonda’s chemistry with her “Grace and Frankie” co-star and close friend Lily Tomlin continues to sparkle.
“80 for Brady” isn’t just about these characters proving to themselves that they value their friendships and are still open to adventure. Indeed, it’s the support they give each other, and the idea that they have nothing left to lose that makes them more willing to take risks than those two generations younger. That goes for the people who portray them as well; it’s pure joy to see these women we have loved and grown with over the decades. They still give their considerable best to make us laugh, dream of our own adventures, and wish they could be around for another two centuries.
Now playing in theaters.