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‘80 for Brady’ Is an Iconic Press Tour That Happens to Include a Movie

While it might be a perfectly enjoyable time at the movies, it’s clear that this whole thing is not really about Tom Brady, or football altogether, but rather four legendary actresses having an absolute blast promoting it

199 Productions/Getty Images/Ringer illustration

I challenge you to come up with an image more incongruous than Jane Fonda declaring “there’d be no climate change without racism” while wearing a Tampa Bay Buccaneers jersey with Tom Brady’s name on it. She’s right, of course, and she should say it. It’s the setting, more than Fonda’s actual point, that elevates the clip to high art. Fonda, a staunch activist in addition to legendary actress and exercise entrepreneur, isn’t announcing a new initiative, or even campaigning for her third Academy Award in the midst of yet another Oscar season. She’s promoting a studio comedy called 80 for Brady, a movie with a premise as silly as it is self-explanatory.

Even if it weren’t timed to the upcoming Super Bowl—or, coincidentally, Brady’s second retirement80 for Brady is the platonic ideal of a January (OK, first weekend of February) release. The movie is technically based on a true story, albeit as loosely as one of the housecoats that EGOT winner Rita Moreno wears throughout the film. Once upon a time, some women of a certain age watched the New England Patriots play every week. One of those women’s grandsons happened to be a talent agent, who then pitched their informal fan club as a movie. It’s an inspirational story: Anyone can be IP, so long as someone in your family knows the right people and your favorite athlete has a brand-new production company in search of some projects.

Written by Sarah Haskins and Emily Halpern of Booksmart and directed by Kyle Marvin, recently seen getting bulldozed by Jared Leto on WeCrashed, 80 for Brady is fundamentally frivolous. Its stars are not, a contrast that makes for such surreal moments as Fonda’s aforementioned exchange with Kelly Clarkson. Fonda and Moreno are flanked by Lily Tomlin—Fonda’s costar on Grace and Frankie and, before that, 9 to 5—and Sally Field, Norma Rae herself. There’s a glaring gap between these leads’ collective cachet and the anti-prestige of their latest project, plus their own fan base and that of the quarterback who lends it his name and two days of his acting talents. As SNL put it: “Finally! A movie for your mom that your mom won’t like.”

Fonda previously starred in Book Club, the 2018 comedy that’s basically 80 for Brady if you subbed Diane Keaton, Mary Steenburgen, and Candice Bergen in for Tomlin, Field, and Moreno and “getting horny over Fifty Shades of Grey” out for “attending Super Bowl LI.” (There’s even an indirect callback: Fonda’s 80 for Brady character writes erotic novels starring Rob Gronkowski under the pen name Virginia Ledoux.) Book Club made over $100 million worldwide, so one can see why Paramount Pictures decided to green-light its de facto sequel. If 80 for Brady turns a profit, a full-blown “four older actresses letting loose” cinematic universe could well be in the cards. I’m willing to bet that it will; Tom Hanks’s A Man Called Otto has hauled in over $70 million and counting, suggesting the market for heartwarming comedies with an over-40 audience has finally started a post-pandemic rebound.

Like Book Club before it, 80 for Brady leans relatively lightly on its sensational hook. Book Club, for all its wink-wink-nudge-nudge marketing, was more sweetly romantic than authentically raunchy. 80 for Brady is about four women obsessed with the Patriots, complete with a backstory about Tomlin’s character watching football while she recovers from chemotherapy. But it’s obvious the NFL isn’t the real draw here. Yes, Brady himself makes a cameo; no, seven Super Bowl victories do not make one a natural actor. (LeBron James in Trainwreck he isn’t.) This is about watching icons enjoy the fruits of their decades-long careers both on and off the screen. Which is why the best part of 80 for Brady isn’t really 80 for Brady, a perfectly enjoyable exercise in uplift, Diana Ross dance routines, and strong edibles. It’s the press tour.

Witness drag queen Trixie Mattel completely stump the crew with basic questions about football, a sport they definitely all watch. (Field is the only one who claims to, after raising three sons. Fonda is a baseball fan, which tracks; one of her ex-husbands used to own the Atlanta Braves.) Witness Moreno, in the same breath, recall the March on Washington and the tip she gave Dolly Parton for how to discreetly fart onstage. (“I wait for the trumpets!”) Witness the four compare notes on their prodigious stack of awards. (Tomlin has the most Emmy nominations at over two dozen, but she’s also the only one without an Oscar. Tough beat for Ms. Frizzle!) If the point of 80 for Brady is to revel in its stars’ chemistry, doing so does not, in fact, require purchasing a ticket to see 80 for Brady in theaters.

Those who do will find a dubiously effective branding exercise wrapped in a highly effective distraction. 80 for Brady rewinds to one of the great comebacks of Brady’s—or anyone’s—career, a remember-when with convenient, if serendipitous, timing. On Wednesday, Brady announced his retirement from the NFL “for good” following the end of a less-than-stellar season, a highly publicized divorce, and a legal and financial fiasco stemming from his involvement with cryptocurrency hub FTX. 80 for Brady asks us to forget all that and focus on the good times, a fairly big ask. A third-act twist that makes the protagonists directly responsible for the miraculous turnaround requires less suspension of disbelief.

It’s a little more credible to hear that Moreno was starstruck by Field’s performance in the made-for-TV movie Sybil, or that Fonda still doesn’t know what a tight end is or does. 80 for Brady is a movie for people who miss movie stars, and a reminder that four of our best are still with us. We all contain multitudes. Fonda’s just include getting arrested at 81 and making out with Harry Hamlin in a closet.