80 for Brady sounds like torture, but the good news is it’s just bad
25th April 2023

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(M) 98 minutes

Another week, another movie in which an American sports legend is treated as a secular Christ. In Air, Ben Affleck’s recent seriocomic paean to corporate sponsorship, the chosen one was Michael Jordan, kept mostly off screen but still bestowing his ineffable aura of sanctity on the Nike boardroom.

Rita Moreno (left) Jane Fonda, Sally Field and Lily Tomlin play lifelong friends who travel to the Super Bowl to see star Tom Brady in 80 For Brady.

In Kyle Marvin’s still milder comedy 80 For Brady, the square-jawed NFL quarterback Tom Brady is a comparatively down-to-earth saviour. Not only is he credited as a producer, he shows up as himself – looking down from billboards or TV screens, and directly addressing the heroine, played by Lily Tomlin, whenever she’s in need of guidance from above.

Otherwise, 80 For Brady is just another instance of what the great Anjelica Huston once scornfully called an “old lady cheerleader movie”. The cheerleaders here are more or less literal: a quartet of lifelong friends who in their senior years have become passionate fans of American football and of Brady in particular.

What held them all together before their collective conversion is unclear, given screenwriters Sarah Haskins and Emily Halpern (Booksmart) have assigned them the usual contrasting traits. Tomlin is the cranky one, Jane Fonda is the sexy one, Sally Field is meek but no pushover, and Rita Moreno is mourning her husband but ready to learn to love again.

Lily Tomlin is obsessed with star quarterback Tom Brady, who plays himself, in 80 For Brady.

All of them, however, are keen on one last hurrah, so they set off for Houston to attend the 2017 Super Bowl (this pilgrimage, it seems, is loosely inspired by a true story, albeit one that would barely pass muster as filler on the local news).

Naturally, there are obstacles along the way, but Brady’s example is always there to give them courage. In the manner of the Muppets, they’re also aided by other celebrity guest stars who cross their path, most prominently the brash yet cuddly Food Network host Guy Fieri.

Summarised like this, 80 For Brady sounds like 90 minutes of solid torture. But the good news is that it’s merely fairly bad. The leads don’t stretch themselves, but also do nothing to mar our sense of them as legends who deserve better material (Field, perhaps, a bit less than the others).

Most noteworthy is the involvement of Marvin, a first-time director previously best-known for co-writing and starring in The Climb, a well-regarded 2019 indie comedy about a couple of cycling buddies that also had an allegorical aspect.

Stylistically, Marvin is clearly trying for something here, in a deliberately unobtrusive way: he composes his shots rather than cramming cast members into the frame, and he doesn’t cut to close-ups or move the camera unless he has a reason.

But there’s little sign he, or anyone else, had passionate faith in the project, which never stops feeling like a road taken all too many times before. The day will come when these movies are no longer a big-screen staple, and perhaps I’ll miss them when they’re gone. Try as I might, though, I can’t summon much nostalgia in advance.

80 for Brady is released in cinemas on April 27.

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