Between the four leads of this weekend’s heavily promoted theatrical release 80 FOR BRADY, they’ve got (so far) five Oscars, three Tony Awards, two Grammy Awards, 11 Emmy Awards, 182 movie credits, 245 years of work and 335 years of life.
Considering the source of their characters’ adulation just completed a 23-year NFL career where he broke just about every statistical record of consequence–not to mention won seven Super Bowls in the process–one might say that they saw in Tom Brady what we have seen in them, in most of our cases, for just about our entire lives.
The bodies of significant work, both in Hollywood and in life, that Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Rita Moreno and Sally Field have achieved far exceed almost any measure of longevity and impact than any of us could ever dream of. The dramatic roles each of them have won acclaim for, from Field’s breakthrough miniseries performance of a woman with multiple personalites in SYBIL, to Moreno’s bookend performances in both the original and recent remake of WEST SIDE STORY 60 years apart, are nothing short of brilliant. Tomlin’s work as a champion for LGTBQ+ rights, Fonda’s iconic mug shot protesting the Vietnam War at the outset of her fame (which her last name immediately shone a light on), and Moreno’s tireless championship for Latin-American representation in the entertainment industry, have earned them accolades that will endure well beyond their mortalities.
Which is why I’m truly stunned that the reviews of this clearly comedic tour de farce, based on a true story of octogenarians who bond over their mutual love of Brady, the New England Patriots, and pro football have been as tepid and as mixed as they are. This particular one from The Associated Press’ Mark Kennedy really stuck in my craw:
No one emerges with glory from this syrupy, undercooked story of four older friends who are determined to see Brady lead an astonishing come-from-behind win at the 2017 Super Bowl.
A quartet of our finest actors — Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Rita Moreno and Sally Field— are sacrificed for cheap laughs and unearned poignancy. And Brady, an executive producer, sullies one of his greatest triumphs. That hissing sound you hear in the theater is not footballs losing air but an audience deflated.
And Yahoo! Sports’ Mike Reyes, with a following that ostensibly could have attracted some sports fan into the theatres during the strategically chosen launch weekend between the championship games and the Super Bowl (that Paramount undoubtedly had wished would have featured Brady as a participant), was, in an almost apologetic way, equally as dour:
In trying to execute a basic caper of this sort, a combination of playing things too safe and faulty character development grinds this would-be saga to a halt. Save for some moments of levity that somehow rise above the complaisant noise that is the majority of this film, this movie shouldn’t have even qualified for training camp.
It’s a major disappointment that 80 For Brady, with its aforementioned roster of stars, is such a scattershot story that can’t build anything substantial. The talents of the cast are not in question, as the sports comedy has one of the best lineups you could hope for on a comedic road trip; it’s just so unfortunate that there doesn’t seem to be any interest in using anyone involved to their full potential.
As I’m not among those who have yet to see it, I’m not going to pass judgement at this time on my own about whether or not the movie is actually worth spending a few bucks on. To be honest, a movie ticket is beyond my financial means at this moment (What, you already forgot yesterday’s musing? The one with the link at the end I tactfully implored you to read?)
The tale of how this movie got made at all, as well as the spirits of the women who inspired it, is reason enough to cut this film some slack. As People Magazine’s Kelsie Gibson described, it’s as sweet a story of a grandson’s love and a grandma’s passion that has ever been told:
The real-life “Over 80 for Brady” fan club was made up of Elaine St. Martin, Betty Pensavalle and their three other friends, Anita, Pat and Claire. In addition to being friends of over 70 years, they were also dedicated Tom Brady superfans.
Per CBS News Sunday Morning, the women really came together after they became widows; the broadcast said that “game days became the link that kept their friendship from fumbling.” Each game day, they made sure to get together at each other’s houses.
“One Sunday here, one Sunday at my house, and it would go right to the five of us,” St. Martin recalled to CBS News Sunday Morning.
They got together so regularly, they got the nickname the “Over 80 for Brady” club, with Pensavalle’s grandson even making them matching shirts.
So how exactly did the “Over 80 for Brady club” make it to the big screen? The women have Pensavalle’s grandson, Max, to thank for that. Inspired by the women’s story, Max, who worked in Hollywood, decided to pitch the idea as a movie.
In a fun twist of fate, Brady himself jumped at the opportunity to create the film. He even sent a personal message to Pensavalle, saying in a video message, “I wanna make a movie based on your Over 80 for Brady crew.”
And, in my case, anything that involves Rita Moreno touches my own personal cord. I had the joy and privilege of getting to know Moreno one-on-one when she graced the Sony stages as Lydia in the reimagining of Norman Lear’s classic sitcom ONE DAY AT A TIME. The grandmother’s role in the original series, played by another enduring Hollywood legend, Nanette Fabray, was more of a secondary character, elevated in later seasons only after some plot shifts and Mackenzie Phillips’ personal issues resulted in her ultimately leaving. But as Gloria Calderon Kellett reminded anyone within earshot who might have made that observation (hand raised), in a Latino family the abuela is often a more significant and permanent presence in a family household. And who better to cast in such a role that someone with Moreno’s?
To see Moreno coax Norman Lear out onto the middle of the floor during a taping and tango around him, with Lear, despite his physical limitations (he’s heading for 101, remember?, graciously dipping her, was an enduring a studio moment for me than any I’ve ever had. So don’t anyone dare criticize anything she’s in on my watch.
And, like life itself, even something with as light-hearted and, in some people’s minds, not sophomoric enough execution as 80 FOR BRADY has a somber back story. As Gibson’s PEOPLE piece concluded, as the movie opens, not all of those in the above picture are capable of fully enjoying it:
As noted by CBS News Sunday Morning, the active group now consists of St. Martin and Pensavalle, who are 95 and 94 respectively; Claire died, and Anita and Pat are living in an assisted living facility. Based on the Easter eggs already dropped by some reviewers, there are indications that even all of the movie’s characters don’t necessarily all have as happy an ending as Brady did. The game they attend was the 2017 Super Bowl, where Brady led the Patriots from a 28-3 halftime deficit and score the last 28 points to stun the Atlanta Falcons in the game’s first-ever overtime verdict.
But, thank goodness, the actresses in the film are all still hard at work–Fonda and Tomlin have already teamed up for a highly anticipated darker comedy, MOVIN’ ON, due for theatrical release next month, and Fonda will contribute to the sequel to BOOK CLUB, a movie about older women which Paramount used as the model for supporting the greenlight. Moreno and Field are also releasing other projects later this year. Isn’t it ironic that, of the five principle roles in this film, it’s released the week that the 45-year-old BRADY retires.
Incidentally, I wonder if the critics who have panned this film even wanted to acknowledge that this film was originally targeted for streaming release on Paramount+, or whatever it’s called these days, in a nod to the success ONE DAY AT A TIME and GRACE AND FRANKIE had on Netflix, and Field’s recent turn as Laker owner Jerry Buss’ mom on HBO (Max’s) WINNING TIMES did as well. But better-than-expected testing–with actual theater-goers, shifted the studio’s strategy. Because when you get to be a certain age, you just need to get out and do something with your life other than sit in your house and await the inevitable. 98 minutes with these women is reason enough to do that, assuming you can afford it.
So do at least me, if not yourself, a favor–and, frankly, do the industry a favor as well. Go see the movie. And let me know if it’s worth watching when Paramount+SHOWTIME drops it down the road.
Until next time…