What was Tom Brady thinking when he read the script for 80 for Brady? Did he read this fawning, phony, embarrassing tribute to his greatness and think, “Ah, yes. This is right. I deserve this.” If, for some reason, impelled to watch, audiences will and should laugh at this movie for what it is: a hubristic money-grab that represents the worst of celebrity culture.
Part of what makes 80 for Brady, which is directed by Kyle Marvin, such a bizarre watch is that it features four of the greatest performers of the last 100 years: Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Rita Moreno, and Sally Field. They play a group of friends who gather every Sunday to watch the New England Patriots play. Set in 2017, the film begins with the group watching Brady, who is also one of the film’s producers, and his team win the conference championship in the lead-up to the Super Bowl. Lou, played by Tomlin, suggests they take their ritual to the next level and actually attend the big game. The friends agree but wonder how they could afford such a trip. Lou sees a giveaway on a local radio show and enters the contest. They win, and their journey to the Super Bowl begins.
The group faces the kinds of challenges one would expect from a run-of-the-mill road trip comedy of this kind. Trish, played by Fonda, has trouble with men. Just getting out of one of her many relationships, she sees the trip as an opportunity for a fresh start; maybe she will meet someone new. Field plays Betty, a retired math professor who takes few risks and tires of the everyday minutiae of her life. Maura, Moreno’s character, grieves her recently deceased husband. She lives in a retirement facility and accidentally takes sleeping pills on the day she is supposed to travel to the airport with her friends. Hijinks ensue.
Lou features as the film’s main character. We learn that the group began watching the games together by accident after they could not get the remote control to change the channel. The group had gathered that day after Lou’s chemotherapy. It also happened to be the first big game of Brady’s career. As she recovered, the group got hooked on football. For her, Brady’s career represents her own healing. Sometimes Brady talks to her. He provides advice and instructions, for example, via the bobblehead on her mantle and television screens she encounters. It’s the kind of idol worship that would make gods and dictators blush.
All of this is to say that if you watch 80 for Brady from a distance, not thinking too closely about the title or the implications of its production, it is nearly passable. Put these four legends, all of whom commit to the bit, on screen, and it would be hard to get anything totally unwatchable. But that is precisely what makes the film feel particularly shallow. It is a lie, a cheat. The performers are the candy that makes the poison that much easier to swallow.
We have seen athletes produce works featuring themselves before. But these are often coming-of-age stories or movies about the adversity they faced. Such work raises its own series of ethical questions, yet they often at least attempt something more honest than 80 for Brady. This is a film about a man who is so great, so handsome, and so athletic that he inspired and changed the lives of a group of women. He guides them and delivers purpose. And while this film is very loosely based on a true story, that the film only leans into such deification is an embarrassment.
Not every movie needs to aspire to be great art. But this apparently aims to be the complete opposite. It is a commercial produced under the guise of cinema. It is cheap. Notably, Brady, for years, had laid the groundwork for his post-NFL career. He inked a $375 million Fox Sports to broadcast NFL games, for instance. The film can hardly be removed from this context. It is just another step towards the media cash cow awaiting him upon his retirement.
Brady makes brief appearances throughout and then a final cameo at the end. But rather than be self-deprecating, or at least acknowledging in some way the absurdity of the film, he treats it all on the level. The moral of the story, he tells us, is that the women, in fact, inspire him too.
It will be easy to dismiss 80 for Brady as a goofy, sometimes funny film not worth taking seriously. Sure, we might say, don’t these four women deserve the right to have fun and cash a check once in a while? But where does it end? At what point do we demand better? At what point do we stand up to a cult-of-celebrity culture that only gets worse and worse? If these works become the norm, then American cinema really will be in trouble.
80 for Brady is in theaters beginning Friday, February 3, 2023. Watch the film’s trailer here.