’80 for Brady’ Review: Female Friendship Comedy Bolsters Shiny NFL Propaganda Piece

The quartet of stars deliver as a pack of real-life football-obsessed friends — and even Tom Brady comes off with some star quality

80 for Brady
Paramount Pictures

There’s little logic when it comes to fandom. Some of it stems from personal taste or geographic proximity or sentimental nostalgia — or some combination of the three — and some of it is truly the stuff of magic. All of which is to say that the premise of “80 For Brady,” a new star-dense comedy that imagines four octogenarians (okay, three octogenarians and a septuagenarian) as diehard Tom Brady fans doesn’t exactly strain plausibility. The heart wants what the heart wants, even if it’s for the Patriots to go all the way.

The titular “80 For Brady” are based on a real set of Boston-based octogenarians, brought to life in the film by Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Rita Moreno and Sally Field. Their story caught the eyes of screenwriters Sarah Haskins and Emily Halpern (“Booksmart”), who recognized the inherent comedy and affection to such a relationship between women. “80 For Brady” is also the directorial debut of “The Climb” writer Kyle Marvin, who has imbued his film with a bananas sense of whimsy and love.

It’s not that these women love Tom Brady because he’s an amiable, winning sports hunk, but because his success is tied to their own compassion for each other. They first watched Brady play for the Patriots in 2001, when he was a mere draft pick, and when Tomlin’s Lou was recovering from a harsh round of chemo. Sixteen years later — yes, “80 For Brady” is a 2017 period piece — they’re still watching. But now, they wanna do more than see it all play out on TV.

Let’s be clear: “80 For Brady” is insane: Not because female sports fandom is insane nor Patriots fandom (well…), but because there’s so rarely been a film that exists in total plausible deniability of its subject matter. This is a movie that has never heard of CTE, of Colin Kaepernick, of Deflategate, or the 2016 election for that matter. This is a 90-something minute Super Bowl commercial, a warm-blooded advertisement of what football — and by extension the NFL — could be, if it wasn’t for all the things that it actually is.

To that end, “80 For Brady” could not, for the life of itself, predict how the last six months would go for Brady, the golden god of the film, who has come out of retirement, gone through a rough divorce and possibly lost much of his sports fortune to poor cryptocurrency investments.

But the women at the helm of “80 For Brady” are true fans; they don’t care about any of that administrative drama, the political mumbo-jumbo. If they even know about any of Brady’s troubles, that goes unsaid. Their journey to the Super Bowl is much less about the game (though it’s always about the game) and more about a commemoration of their friendship, a coming-of-age film for those who have long been of age.

The Super Bowl trip stands to give these women a chance to get out of their comfort zones: for Lou to embrace spontaneity, for Fonda’s Trish to take another swing at love, for Moreno’s Maura to, um, get over the loss of her husband by being really good at gambling (don’t think too hard about it), and for Field’s Betty to find her independence away from her husband (a bumbling and sweet Bob Balaban). Through a series of adventures both surprising (a hot-wings eating concert) and observed (must every movie with over-65s now feature a “trippy” drug sequence?), the friends’ love and admiration for each other only blossoms.

There’s little conflict to the film, just a series of Super Bowl–adjacent episodes that build up to the final, historic game against the Atlanta Falcons. Guy Fieri is in there, as well as Billy Porter. Anyone who’s anyone is there to help our charming gals get what they want! What they want is not only to be at the game with each other, but also to have a direct line to the players.

Isn’t this every fan’s dreams: to be able to call the shots themselves? That’s why we stand up, yelling at the TV, playing ump and referee off the clock. One can’t help but wonder what it would be like if professional sports — and the NFL, in particular — were not so burdened with bureaucracy and money. If these institutions cared for their players beyond paychecks and brand sponsorships, but for the often inspiring and surprising athletes that they are.

To that end, a final question must be asked: Is Tom Brady any good in the film that bears his name? Brady is an odd public figure, once heroic and now often tragicomic. In light of his recent troubles, it is often baffling to see him play the hero. Through archival footage and minimal dialogue, however, it’s easy to see his draw once again, what he was able to promise so many fans with a bright smile and an impeccably square head. His sense of unreality fits the tone of the film perfectly.

“80 For Brady” is undeniably a shiny piece of NFL propaganda, a film so in love with its own money-making apparatus that it’s hard not to find it at least somewhat evil. But the performances land and are often endearing, with all four women in particularly strong form. “80 For Brady” knows that the fun is not the wins or parties, the glamor or rings, but the friendships and traditions that bedazzle even the most regular jersey, a piece of priceless memorabilia in its own special way.

“80 for Brady” opens Feb. 3 in U.S. theaters via Paramount Pictures.