Sunday, May 26, 2024

’80 for Brady’ Fumbles the Ball

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80 for Brady is a strange movie; it feels like there are two movies inside battling to get out. One is a sweet, raunchy movie about four old friends going on a road trip; wacky hijinks ensue. The other is a clunkily maudlin movie in which characters wrestle with death and grief while trying to find meaning with the living plastered atop a cheap NFL infomercial.

Unfortunately, Kyle Marvin doesn’t know what to do with either of them. 80 for Brady also feels out of time. Tom Brady’s status as a football demigod has been more than a bit tarnished both by his political beliefs and his involvement with cryptocurrency. To some extent, this is okay because Sarah Haskins and Emily Halpern’s script isn’t about Tom Brady so much as the object of lustful idolatry.

Still, it’s remarkable that any studio would go through all this trouble to build a movie around personality and not check to see if he has some personality on camera-he doesn’t. 

80 for Brady is inspired by actual events, which is Hollywood’s way of saying saying “old Klingon proverb.” There may be some truth to it, but it’s mostly fiction. From time to time, Haskins and Halpern’s script has moments of vitality, warmth, and suggestive humor. But in Marvin’s hands, it is a clumsy, stodgy affair filmed poorly and cheaply. Nevertheless, all three have lucked out in getting the legendary talents of Jane Fonda, Lilly Tomlin, Rita Moreno, and Sally Fields.

Haskins and Halpern’s script gives the four icons just enough to hang their personalities on and call it a character. Tomlin’s Lou is a cancer survivor and ring leader of the group. During her chemotherapy, the four discovered football and the hunky Brady. Brady is merely a hunk of man-meat for the other three, but for Lou, he represents hope and possibility. 

Fonda’s Trish is the horn dog of the group. A former Mayflower girl and a spokesmodel for the local used car lot turned romance novelist. Now she spends her time writing and publishing smutty fan fic about Rob Gronkowski. 

Moreno’s Maura is still grieving the loss of her husband. She divides her time between living in a retirement home and her house, choosing to stay at the retirement home to avoid the memories of her late husband in the house. How she affords any of this is never explained, but an old Klingon proverb says, “It’s a movie, and we should move on.”

Lastly is Sally Field’s Betty, the uptight former M.I.T. professor of mathematics. The one woman who is still married and whose husband is still alive. However, her husband, Mark (Bob Balaban), seems to view Betty as less than a wife and more like a mother, with Betty constantly having to look after Mark and being asked to look over his work and make suggestions. At one point, she has to repeatedly remind him to put on pants before he leaves for a lecture.

The so-called plot involves the four women deciding to go to the Superbowl because life is short, and Tomlin has recently gotten her annual results back and is worried about what they might be. But everyone shoots down the idea because they can’t afford it. Intentionally or not, one of the most salient notions in 80 for Brady is that four older independent women who all own their own houses, can afford chemo, a successful novelist, a former M.I.T. professor with a townhouse, and can both afford to own a house and live in a retirement home; all find the Super Bowl prohibitively expensive.

Man, that’s just dark.

To be sure, there is an aspect to 80 for Brady that yearns to be more than what it is. I don’t mean deeper, but something blunter and joyfully vulgar. For example, there’s a running gag involving Field’s wearing her fanny pack over her shoulder and her calling it a strap-on, to her friend’s horror. This joke culminates with a scene with Guy Fieri, who deadpans a line that had me howling in the theater.

Speaking of Guy Fieri, who is hilarious, 80 for Brady has a bizarre array of cameos that defy categorization. From Harry Hamlin to Retta, to Billy Porter as Lady Gaga’s choreographer Gu-Gu and Andy freaking Richter as the random millionaire with a sky-box, the ladies end up in. Rob Courdry and Alex Moffat play two clueless sports radio jockeys who spend more time crafting asinine comments than having any knowledge of the sport.

80 for Brady has a lot of funny moments despite Marvin’s flat direction. At one point, at an NFL Experience exhibit, Moreno bets a mouthy jock that Tomlin can make more passes than he can. One of the exhibit workers tells her gambling isn’t allowed. “But they don’t pay me that much so I don’t care.” I believe that is what Werner Herzog calls a moment of ecstatic truth.

Another thing that makes 80 for Brady so bizarre is how it feels like a rough draft of cobbled ideas. Take Field’s character, for example. She vows to use the trip to get better at flirting. But why? She’s married. Does it lead to one of the other best gags of the film, in which she learns about negging and ends up hurting a young man’s feelings and spending the night comforting his bruised ego? Yes. 

Field is so good she overcomes this inexplicable ask of her character. In fact, in a group of icons, hers is the one that feels like the most real character. Perhaps because her arc is less dramatic than the others. Not to say battling the fear that a once beaten cancer can return, but Marvin and Haskins and Halpern’s script do a lousy job of handling the heavy story; instead, it comes off as trite. 

Still, the every once and a while 80 for Brady gives us a glimpse of its bawdy heart. Take the aforementioned scene with Field negging the young man. She looks at the handsome young man trying to find a flaw to mock. Finally, she asks him to stand up, and he does; his crotch smacks dab in the center of John Toll’s camera frame. She spins him around, showing off his butt to the audience. 

80 for brady
Trish (Fonda) meets her crush Rob Gronkowski (Rob Gronkowski)

Yet, even this moment feels awkward because Toll’s camera refuses to do anything but record and to do so in the dullest fashion imaginable. Toll’s has made not a film but a collage of visual muck. I complained about the lighting in Confess, Fletch, but this is even worse. 80 for Brady might be one of the ugliest films of the year so far. One scene has Tomlin sitting by herself in broad daylight, and she has, for no reason, a shadow across her forehead that does nothing but make the scene visually awkward. The make-up is also too heavy, or the film is so poorly lit that the make-up stands out, but either way, at times, it’s distracting.

Have I seen worse? Yes. Do these women deserve better? Absolutely.

I’ve seen 80 for Brady under a dozen different names starring older Hollywood icons who were men. Most of those were just as charming but didn’t have as much bubbling underneath, but they looked better. Yet, despite the clumsy manufactured dramatics and eye-gouging eyes-sore cinematography of 80 for Brady, I don’t think those other films had such multi-faceted characters.

Still, this is mainly because of the four leads, who can do this movie in their sleep. Brady lacks charisma, personality, or charm on camera. But next to Fonda, Field, Tomlin, and Moreno, the poor schlub never had any hope.

While these characters are paper-thin, mere vessels for Hollywood movie stars, and despite emotional arcs that are either too heavy or too flimsy, many emotions exist in these characters. In turn, they are scared, vulnerable, sad, lonely, happy, etc. Death is a real thing to these ladies; they treat it with equal parts sardonic acceptance but tinged with a genuine acceptance that they are closer to the end than the beginning.

But they’re not dead yet. 

Images courtesy of Paramount Pictures

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