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80 for Brady (2023)::rating::2.5::rating::2.5

I did not enjoy 80 for Brady.   Believe me, I wanted to.  After all, the film centers on the pure devotion of four true sports fans.  I’m a diehard follower of the Oklahoma City Thunder.  One year, the team was in the midst of a deep playoff run, and I hosted regular watch parties.  During one tense game, the team went on a run, all while a buddy was fetching a beer from my fridge.  Needless to say, he was not allowed back in the living room until the Thunder cooled off again.  So, he spent the better part of two quarters standing in my kitchen.  In the beginning of Brady, we see four New England Patriots fanatics locked in a kooky pregame ritual:  Sally Field’s character has to change a lightbulb.  Rita Moreno has to dump chips into the floor.  Right away, this is just my kind of crazy.

Unfortunately, these nutty moments of inspiration are few and far between.  Around 80% of 80 for Brady is a dispiriting spectacle of bad sitcom writing, in which four EGOT-level actresses flounder with cheeseball one-liners and flimsy contrivances.  This artificiality is even more disappointing given that this story derives from real events.  Both the Brady ladies and the women who play them deserve so much better.

The story begins during the 2016-17 season.  Once again, Brady and the Pats are kicking ass, to the great delight of their four biggest fans.  The screenwriters helpfully shuffle each woman into a neat category:  Betty (Sally Field) is the introverted brainiac of the group.  Trish (Jane Fonda) is vain and man-hungry; she earns a nice living cranking out Gronk-centric romance novels.  Maura (Rita Moreno) is the feisty one. She offers wisecracks and gambles with big money.  Finally, there’s Lou (Lily Tomlin).  She’s the hunky quarterback’s most devoted follower, and the club’s de facto leader.

As soon as the Pats book another Super Bowl appearance, Lou blurts out the ladies should embark on a spare-no-expense trip to the big game.  After a little hemming and hawing, the wacky idea takes root.  At the same time, some local sports radio dudes offer a contest:  The caller with the most compelling story wins four tickets.  Do our ladies win the tickets?  Of course they do!  This is a movie with very few surprises, and your only hope comes if you somehow find its predictability charming.

Count me as underwhelmed.  The resulting story is a middling buddy comedy, loaded with low-grade jokes and stale dialogue.  An example:  The Brady ladies end up gobbling down weed gummies, because of course they do.  All four leads have impeccable comic timing, and they should excel playing elderly noobs who get fried like Church’s chicken. Unfortunately, the writers don’t know how to pay off the gag, yielding a dearth of laughs.  That goes ditto for when Betty enters an eating contest for hot wings.  The filmmakers even throw in Guy Fieri as a host, so you’d think the jokes would just write themselves.  There could be satire.  There could be anarchy!  Nope.  The whole scene just hangs there, like a wet gym sock.  Flavortown should be ashamed, even if it exists anymore.

And yet, we get tiny little snifters of what this movie might’ve been.  Whether intentional or not, Brady delivers some micro-moments of surreal humor:  Consider the scene where Moreno stumbles into a poker game of celebs.  I love that she hazes Patton Oswalt, nicknaming him “Brisket.”  Or the scene where Trish leads a bizarre reading of her soft-core Gronk-porn.  These scenes make me think this movie would’ve been best served to just fly completely off the rails.  The nuttier the better.  Again, these are world-class actresses.  Their talent cries out for something more adventurous.

Alas, no.  Brady stays firmly in the pocket, and the movie is poorer for it.  I suspect some of the blame lies with its titular superstar, who also acts as producer.  Tom Brady occasionally pops up, playing a starchy, messianic version of himself.  He speaks to Lou in visions, whether it be possessed bobbleheads, or Jumbotrons come to life.  This version of Brady offers bland aphorisms about persevering and giving it everything.  He’s like Touchdown Jesus, except the only real miracles lie in his perfect jawline and cheekbones.  Brady’s cameo has the flavor of old rice cakes.  Yet another opportunity for humor is lost.

On the subject of squandered potential, all four leads do what they can with underpowered material.  Tomlin and Moreno get a few emotional beats, and they bring some actual humanity to the film.  Otherwise, this film could’ve starred four lesser actresses, and maybe would I wouldn’t have been so disheartened by it.  The film also wastes talented comedians like Bob Balaban, Sara Gilbert, and Danny Amendola.  Well, maybe not Danny Amendola. But you get the idea.

Roger Ebert used to offer this yardstick for measuring movies (and I’m paraphrasing):  Is this more interesting than video of the cast having lunch?  Imagine this wrap party, with Guy Fieri, Patton Oswalt, and Sally Field hovering around the same punchbowl.  I’d love to hear that conversation.  Put it on Netflix and I’ll watch immediately.  As is, this is an unforgivably forgettable experience, made by some of the most memorable people in movie history.  I can respect the fandom behind 80 for Brady.  I just never found myself rooting for it.

98 min.  PG-13.  On demand.

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