Producers: Donna Gigliotti and Tom Brady   Director: Kyle Marvin    Screenplay: Sarah Haskins and Emily Halpern   Cast: Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Rita Moreno, Sally Field, Tom Brady, Billy Porter, Rob Corddry, Alex Moffat, Guy Fieri, Harry Hamlin, Bob Balaban, Glynn Turman, Sara Gilbert, Ron Funches, Jimmy O. Yang, Matt Lauria, Sally Kirkland, Andy Richter, Marshawn Lynch, Patton Oswalt and Retta   Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Grade: C+

A sweet little human-interest vignette suitable for a local TV sports show has been blown up into an episodic, old-fashioned big-screen sitcom in Kyle Marvin’s debut directorial feature.  The saving grace of “80 for Brady,” insofar as it has one, is that it offers four screen icons of a certain age—Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Rita Moreno and Sally Field—the opportunity to do some extended comic riffs, individually and in varied couplings.  They’re hardly inspired riffs, but you might smile occasionally watching them.

The only true part of the movie—based, as the saying goes, on a true story—is that there was a quintet of elderly ladies who regularly watched the New England Patriots games on TV, cheering their special hero quarterback Tom Brady.  The screenplay by Sarah Haskins and Emily Halpern reduces their number to four and then fashions a completely fictional scenario involving their not only going to Houston for the 2017 Super Bowl LI in which the Patriots faced the Atlanta Falcons, but despite the fact that their tickets prove bogus, playing a decisive role in its famous outcome.

Each of the quartet is a character in the most flamboyant sense.  Tomlin’s Lou is a cancer survivor who, despite the pleas of her daughter (Sara Gilbert), is ignoring a letter from the hospital about the results of some recent tests; she believes that making it to the game might be a last hurrah for her and the gang, and whenever she’s in the doldrums dreams that she gets uplifting messages from Brady (playing himself).  Fonda’s Trish is an erstwhile model on TV commercials who’s become a bestselling author of romance novels with football backdrops; having been too often burned in love, she’s also afraid of getting too close to any man until she meets Dan (Harry Hamlin), a handsome ex-player with a Super Bowl ring.  Moreno’s Maura is a grieving widow who’s moved into a retirement home where another resident, Mickey (Glynn Turman), is sweet on her.  And Fields’s Betty, who always points out that she’s the young one, still in her seventies, is a retired MIT professor whose absent-minded husband (Bob Balaban), a math prof, is completely dependent on her and keeps pestering her for advice about his latest article.

Lou claims to have won tickets to the game on a contest run by wacko Pats super-fans Pat (Rob Corddry) and Nat (Alex Moffat), and the gals rush to the airport after tussling with retirement home manager Tony (Jimmy O. Yang) to liberate Maura, who’s mistakenly taken a powerful sleeping pill.  On reaching Houston, they get into a series of adventures.  A good deal of time is spent at the NFL Experience, where all four become stars among the crowd (Betty, for instance, winning first prize in a hot wings eating contest hosted by Guy Fieri)—the lengthy sequence serves as a virtual commercial for the event (but only a bit more so than the whole picture)—and at an extravagant pre-game party, where they indulge not just in dances and sweet conversations with studly young guys like Matt Lauria but in a celebrity poker game, where Maura wins big. 

That game proves important the next day, when the tickets, lost but then found, turn out to be fake and they have to get help from Gugu (Billy Porter), one of the card sharks, who uses his clout as choreographer of the halftime show to sneak them in past the eyes of a by-the-book security guard (Ron Funches).  They wind up, through Dan’s influence, in the VIP box, from which they watch the on-field action in dismay and decide to intervene to provide their idol with the encouragement—and advice—he needs. 

All of this is the purest fantasy, of course, except for the substantial game footage, which the NFL was clearly instrumental in providing—a fair trade, one might argue, for the free publicity the movie represents.  (It’s certainly no accident that it’s being released just before the 2023 Super Bowl.)  The sketch-like construction and limp, musty comedy the various episodes are based on are hardly of grade-A quality, but they’re elevated by the expertise of the four stars, who prove instrumental in transforming the feeble material into an agreeable time-waster for older audiences.  Football fans may be amused by the way that the actual Super Bowl LI has been integrated into the fairy-tale scenario, but the outcome of the game will come as no surprise to them; nor will the ending of the movie to anybody.  As for Brady, he exhibits a pleasant smile, but on the basis of this appearance he’ll need some lessons before pursuing an acting career during his retirement, which he’s now announced for a second time.  The supporting cast add some nifty grace notes, with Hamlin, Balaban and Turman most notable in the large ensemble.   

Marvin, a long-time producer, doesn’t exhibit much imagination here, but at least he gives his stars ample freedom to strut their stuff, and among the crew editor Colin Patton does an especially good job, not merely in connecting the loosely-related scenes but in cutting together the game footage with the newly-shot sequences in the VIP booth.  Otherwise production designer Wynn Thomas, costumer Allyson B. Fanger and cinematographer John Toll give the picture a glossy look, while John Debney’s score is predictably perky.

Tomlin, Fonda, Moreno and Field all deserve MVP status here.  It’s too bad they weren’t provided with a championship screenplay.