80 For Brady has been in the works for years, but the marketing team couldn’t have prayed for better timing when it came to the organic marketing that was Tom Brady’s retirement announcement early last week. This film is a literal love letter to a man many believe to be the NFL G.O.A.T., and it arrived in theaters as a wake, not a funeral.
Then again, you already know if you want to see 80 For Brady. You were fully aware whether or not you wanted to take your mom or your grandma or the Tom Brady fan in your life to see this flick before his retirement was announced. His name being in the news isn’t going to sway your decision — that’s my job.
The theater I saw it in was packed. This 11:45am Sunday matinee was filled with people who laughed at the trailer for Cocaine Bear and cried at the end of 80 For Brady. No judgment there … I also did both of those things. But I think you catch my drift.
This movie is, however, much better than you would expect. It would probably play well for anyone, not just the grandmas and grieving Pats fans that the film is marketed to.
80 For Brady is inspired by a true story. The real-life folks were a bunch of widowed old ladies who liked Drew Bledsoe but loved Tom Brady. The film follows four grannies (Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Sally Field, and Rita Moreno — perhaps the most decorated cast of the decade thanks to four lifetimes in theatre, film, and television — who spend their Holy Sunday afternoons praying at the altar of Tom Brady. When his 2016 Patriots make it to Super Bowl LI, the ladies worry it might be the last one they ever see – so they resolve to travel to Houston to watch Tom win his fifth ring.
Breaking out of old folks’ homes, hooking up with former footballers, and creating sequined “80 For Brady” jerseys is just the tip of the iceberg in this madcap romp that leans on the fantastical. From Sally Field impressing Guy Fieri with her hot-wing downing skills to Rita Moreno whooping Marshawn Lynch’s ass in poker (I swear to God I didn’t make any of that up) – you almost start to believe it when the quartet breaks into the offensive coaches’ booth during the third quarter and hypes Tom up for his historic 28-3 comeback.
Yes, this movie creates an alternate timeline where Tom has no fight left in him – until four old ladies put on a headset and give him the pep talk he needs.
But for some reason, none of that really seems to matter. It makes no sense when Jane Fonda is known for her best-selling Gronkowski erotic fan-fiction or when Lily Tomlin is an exceptional quarterback in her own right (I swear to God I didn’t make any of that up). This is not a movie about the plot. It’s about heart and perseverance and grit and determination and optimism and love. And how athletes, Tom Brady in particular, become the Herculean heroes that represent all of that.
Tom shows up too, of course. Thanks to authentic Super Bowl footage courtesy of NFL Films, Tom appears in much more of the movie than you would expect. From archived footage to sideline pep talks to post-game congratulations, Tom appears as Self in the role he was born to play. He’s likable enough, and will no doubt be worth that 10-year contract with Fox Sports, reportedly cashing out at $375 million.
And that’s really how the movie thrives – it rides a wave of likeability that is undeniable. The quartet is charming, Gronk Gronks it up, and Guy Fieri gives it some flavor while Billy Porter, Patton Oswalt, and Sara Gilbert round out a cast you already know and love. It doesn’t matter that I’ve seen better cinematography from an iPad at a piano recital or that the title drop of Cocaine Bear got the biggest laugh of the day. It’s about escaping to a world that is fun and happy. One where your favorite team wins the Super Bowl or your favorite quarterback wins it just for you. Or where you can still find love in your 80s or beat the odds your doctor gave you.
From grandmas to Tom Brady fanatics, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house when it all worked out in the end. When we won the game, and won in life too. Isn’t that what we want from sports? Isn’t that what we want from movies?