The appeal of the “senior-citizen genre” depends upon people’s habit of thinking their elders were born yesterday. Whether it’s old guys going wild on a bachelor party weekend in Last Vegas or golden girls reawakening with the help of erotica in Book Club, these films’ hooks invite us to giggle at behavior that belies the characters’ ages.
The latest film in this genre, 80 for Brady, is guilty of the same ageist humor as its predecessors, but it ultimately emerges as a sincere celebration of octogenarian characters whose roots in reality ground the often outlandish proceedings.
Penned by Booksmart co-writers Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins, the film is loosely based on the true story of the “Over 80 for Brady” club — a group of longtime friends and New England Patriots fans who, in the wake of widowhood, bonded over football and their mutual love of football quarterback Tom Brady.
When their grandson pitched this fan club as the basis for a film, Hollywood royalty huddled up to bring the story to the big screen. Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Rita Moreno and Sally Field, respectively, play Lou, Trish, Maura and Betty.
When a contest arises for fans “with the best story” to win tickets to 2017’s Super Bowl LI, the ladies jump at the chance and come up victorious. Of course, once they get to Houston for the big game, hijinks ensue.
It’s here where the film fumbles a bit. Rather than relying on the legendary actresses’ natural chemistry, versatility and virtuosic wit, director Kyle Marvin tries to draw laughs from the bottom of the barrel — drug-induced hallucinations, slapstick involving spicy wings, sexual innuendos. (Field’s character repeatedly refers to her fanny pack as a “strap-on.”)
It’s especially perplexing to see Tomlin given so little to do for laughs given her comedic history — once having the highest-charting album ever recorded by a female comedian, among other accomplishments.
However, Tomlin’s heartfelt performance holds the film together amid its goofier parts. While most sports comedies portray men as the default “true fans,” 80 for Brady proves progressive by focusing on Lou’s purehearted passion and personal stakes in the game. (Her monologue about finding inspiration from Brady during her fight with cancer is particularly poignant.)
But the film is equally admirable for the ways in which it shows the characters not relying on men. Moreno’s Maura makes a modest gesture near the end that shows she’s open to love but more concerned about living independently. Meanwhile, Field’s Betty eventually tells her laughably codependent husband (Bob Balaban) that it’s time for him to take the ball and run with it. And Fonda’s Trish even ghosts a guy interested in her. In this sense, the film serves as a counterpoint to the romantic Book Club from a few years back (which also starred Fonda).
By now, you’ve likely heard the news that this film is arriving on the eve of its namesake’s retirement. We’ll see if he changes his mind 40 days later like the last time he announced his leave. However, if Brady really means it, this film makes for a fitting and surprisingly tender farewell from the fierce football player, who also produced and stars in the film. Making this statement alongside the release of a film about aging and perseverance is also a great tribute to the film’s seasoned actresses and the real-life women behind their roles. What better way to live on forever than through the magic of movies?