The Seven Stages of Watching ’80 For Brady’
Let’s make something very clear—as a writer who believes in ethics, I owe it to you to disclose that Tom Brady makes me angry. Always has. Always will. My reasons include, but certainly are not limited to: being the longtime Patriots quarterback, then randomly becoming a Buccaneer, retiring, un-retiring to lackluster results, retiring again, and his objectively silly face.
But when it comes to the film 80 For Brady, in theaters today—and produced by, yes, Tom Brady—my distaste for the man is more than counterbalanced by original music from national treasure and pseudo-religious figure, Dolly Parton. When you add in the reunion of Grace and Frankie stars, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda, alongside Norma Rae and the woman who practically invented dancing in a purple dress, the scales were effectively slammed in favor of yours truly seeing this movie. But I did. For journalism. And because I’m sick.
Let’s make something else very clear–this is not a review. Reviews are for Oscar contenders, embarrassing blockbuster busts, and money-grabs. 80 For Brady vibrates on a different frequency. In fact, I would have no idea where to start with a review. 80 For Brady happened to me in stages—stages both aggressive and gentle, like a kitten, if that kitten were rabid. You could fight it, but why would you?
There are ten core cast members in 80 For Brady: Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Sally Field, Rita Moreno, Tom Brady, Guy Fieri, Lisa Rinna’s Husband Harry Hamlin, Jane Fonda’s Wig Collection, and the Incomparable Billy Porter. I will only be referring to them by these names. Let me guide you through 80 For Brady, so that your very soul will not be laid to rest next to mine at the Regal Union Square for all of eternity. Seven rings. Seven stages.
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Stage One: Yelling in Tom Brady
You see, if you didn’t pick it up from the title, this is a film that centers around Tom Brady. But the trick is that it doesn’t exactly require him to do much. This period piece kicks off on a playoff Sunday in 2017. The scene: Lily Tomlin’s living room, where she has assembled her gal pals for another Sunday of watching Tom Brady play football. Adorned in Patriots gear, these ladies have a rhythm: a superstition, if you will. To ensure that the Patriots win, Jane Fonda and one of her blonde wigs must be reading a book in the dining room. Sally Field must be on a ladder. Rita Moreno should be sipping tea. Right before kickoff? Lily Tomlin must turn over a bowl of chips. If all four things happen, then Tom has everything he needs to win.
The girls sit together and make jokes about their age. (Sally Field is not 80! Jane Fonda is a floozy!) Then, they talk about how beautiful Tom Brady is. Not my love language, but you do you, ladies.
Right before the film started, I had a mild panic that I hadn’t bought enough snacks. In addition to a mimosa, poured into an 80 For Brady-branded wine glass, I also got a Diet Pepsi, a small popcorn, an entire bag of Sour Patch Children, and three (3) large pretzel sticks. When all four women stood up on screen to attempt the wave while screaming, “Tooooooom Brady!” I knew that I had made the correct decision. This was going to be my Iliad.
After winning the AFC Championship, the Patriots will head to Super Bowl LI. The four women have a conversation about the Super Bowl party they want to plan. Mind you, I was initially unaware that this film was based on four octogenarians who actually went to the Super Bowl to see Tom Brady. Suddenly, it hit me, like one of those scenes in the Disney channel original series That’s So Raven when she has a vision: this art, produced and starring Tom Brady, wasn’t something a writer pulled out of thin air. This was a fictionalized story within the real-life timeline of when the Patriots went to the Super Bowl in 2017. Tom Brady was producing fan fiction about how much he was loved. I was enraged. Lightheaded. And I was approximately 11 minutes into 80 For Brady.
Stage Two: Mild Concern and Chaotic Character Building
These four women decide to actually go to the Super Bowl, via a contest on a televised radio show. Anyway, the entrant with the best story wins four tickets. Lily Tomlin convinces her buddies that they should leverage their friendship to get these tickets. Jane Fonda calls between writing her erotic fiction about Rob Gronkowski. (This is not a joke, but rather, an important plot point.) Sally Field calls, despite her intensely insecure husband bothering her about an academic paper he’s writing. Rita Moreno calls and has her entire retirement community do the same. But the caller you really need to focus on is Lily Tomlin. It’s through her call that we learn how this Tom Brady obsession started.
Lily Tomlin had cancer. She was going through chemotherapy and her friends—and her friend’s brunette wig—were there supporting her. While getting her settled, they discovered the remote was busted. Unable to change the television, the women were drawn into the game on the screen. A young rookie by the name of Tom Brady was thrown into the mix that day, and he led the Patriots to victory. A tradition began.
After all that calling, it turns out their efforts were worth it. The Ladies, Over 80—Except Sally Field, Who Is Not Over 80—Were Poised to Go Watch Brady.
Stage Three: Unbridled, Old Lady Mania
It’s at this point in the story when someone involved with this film—Tom Brady, director Kyle Marvin, that cheeky bastard Rob Gronkowski—mashed their foot on the gas pedal and did not let off until the end of the movie. For no reason in particular, we learn that Rita Moreno is on two medications: one for blood pressure and one for sleeping. The sleeping pills are rather strong, and you guessed it! She took the wrong ones, right before the quad was supposed to leave for the Super Bowl.
When the other three women drive to pick her up, she’s locked in her room. As a last-ditch effort, one character comes to the rescue: Jane Fonda’s Wig Collection. Jane Fonda picks out one of her special girls from the trunk, where they’re all packed neatly. She puts it on and distracts the retirement home’s coordinator while Sally Field and Lily Tomlin sneak Rita Moreno out. She awakes on the way to the airport, screams out in joy, and that’s the end of that plotline.
The women make it to Houston and settle in. At this point, Lily Tomlin gets a call from her daughter, Sara Gilbert, who you probably know from Roseanne or that slightly less interesting version of The View. We learn that Lily Tomlin has been ignoring calls from her doctor, who recently conducted scans to check up on her remission. But right now, Lily Tomlin will not be addressing that. Not when they have a full weekend ahead.
Stage Four: Flavortown
At breakfast the next day, the women decide to give Sally Field the four tickets, as she’s the most responsible of the four. She loudly announces that she will store them safely in her strap-on. Yes, her strap-on. As it turns out, this is her fanny pack, which she straps on… to her body. Get your head out of the gutter, you sodomite. The four women embark on different plans throughout the day. Jane Fonda learns that her published Gronkowski erotica is actually a deeply beloved series followed by NFL fans, including a two-time Super Bowl champion and eventual love interest, played by Lisa Rinna’s Husband, Harry Hamlin.
Elsewhere, Sally Field is simply hungry. She finds a spicy-wing-eating competition hosted by Guy Fieri, because why not? She enters—only for the wings—and wins, because it turns out that old people cannot taste things.* In the throes of Sally’s excitement, she leaves her strap-on laying on the stage. But who among us could be held accountable for such a transgression when Lisa Rinna’s Husband Harry Hamlin and Guy Fieri are inviting you and your three friends to a swanky party later in the night? The women leave to get ready for the party. The fate of the tickets remains in the balance.
*This is played for comedic effect, but it struck a particularly existential cord in me. At what age will my sense of taste fade? Has it started already? Is that why I find the flavor of these middling pretzel sticks both fleeting and offensive?
Stage Five: Earnest Dissociation From Reality
At this point, I begin taking stock of the women on the screen. Rita Moreno is a goddamn EGOT winner. Lily Tomlin is only an Oscar away from doing the same. Jane Fonda is only second to Swedish activist Greta Thunberg when it comes to people who have advocated for environmental preservation. (Eat it, Al Gore!) Sally Field… I mean, my God, Sally Field is an American treasure. She’s Gidget, for Christ’s sake. And yet, at this party, three of these women are drugged with some kind of gummy edible that messes them up beyond all recognition. At the same time, the women come to realize that Sally Field has lost her strap-on. All hell breaks loose.
The key to fixing this—as is the key to most things in life—is to find Guy Fieri. If anyone knows where your strap-on is, it’s Guy Fieri. Rita Moreno goes upstairs and finds a mask, puts it on, whispers “Eyes Wide Shut,” and stumbles upon a poker game where every person playing is Guy Fieri. Then she looks in a mirror and she, too, is Guy Fieri. By the time she comes to, she has swept the entire poker game, taking money from everyone, but most notably, the Incomparable Billy Porter. Excited that these winnings might be enough to get the tickets back, she wins one final hand before discovering the whole game was for charity. She donates it to the charity of the Incomparable Billy Porter’s choice and leaves. The foursome decides to resume searching the next day. It seems like all hope is lost.
By the way, if you’re wondering where Tom Brady is in all of this: he appears at random and speaks directly to Lily Tomlin’s character, but no one else sees it. At this point, Lily Tomlin has a conversation with Tom Brady via a television monitor. He tells her to hold onto hope. In a way, I feel like he’s telling me to do the same.
Sally Field tracks down Guy Fieri, and in turn, her strap-on. When the four women attempt to get into the game though, the security guard tells them they’ve been scammed. Jane Fonda has already discovered, earlier in the film, that the tickets were not from the contest. You see, she tracked down the guys from that recorded podcast, who informed her that the real winners were a foursome of guys all named Tom Brady. So when the tickets come up as a scam, Lily Tomlin’s three friends finally ask her: Lily Tomlin, what is going on?
Turns out, Lily Tomlin sold her car and some other things to buy the tickets online. Why would she do such a thing? Because this might be their last hoorah, because she’s certain that she’s dying. No one is more shocked than me to discover moisture on my face. I look up to the ceiling to see if this, the Regal Union Square, has a leaking roof. But no. I am crying. I am livid. I do not want to see Lily Tomlin die. Not in this film and not in real life. God, if you’re reading, take me first.
Before you start crying too, let me continue. The Incomparable Billy Porter is nearby. And he’s going into the game. Why? Because he’s Lady Gaga’s choreographer. I let out an audible gasp as he escorts the women into the stadium.
Stage Six: Fuck It.
By now, I cannot feel my face. I have not had more than one alcoholic beverage, and if I’m being frank, it wasn’t strong. The women make their way in, where another security guard says that without proper credentials, the women will have to do something to prove they should get backstage access. That’s when a full dance number happens. I do not remember putting my hands into the air, but that’s where they were as the entire sequence unfolded on screen. I start to imagine what state I would be in if my personal hero, Bills quarterback Josh Allen, had produced this movie, but that’s a moot point because he’s not an actual sociopath.
The women get into the game, but the win is short-lived. After being featured on the Jumbotron, that mean security guard finds them in their 80 For Brady-branded jerseys and tries to escort them out. That’s when Lisa Rinna’s Husband Harry Hamlin arrives and escorts them to a private box to finish watching the Super Bowl. If you remember, Super Bowl LI was a rough one for the Patriots. Down by 25 points, the Patriots were almost certainly going to lose. Against the Atlanta Falcons, no less. Mortifying.
It’s at this point that the women have a plan. They’ll break into the coach’s booth and coach the game themselves. I am physically still in the Regal, but my spirit is floating above that reimagined game. I am convinced: I have traveled to this alternate timeline. Sally Field calls a play in place of the defensive coordinator Lily Tomlin grabs a microphone and makes a direct plea to Tom Brady. The two of them aren’t unlike, apparently. She survived cancer and he… well, he’s Tom Brady. He survived Deflategate. They must look to the future, not the present! And if she can fight, then he can fight. Again, I’m emotional, though I cannot find the word for which emotion it is. Tom Brady listens to every word, then looks to his team and says, “Let’s fucking go!” The crowd at Regal giggles.
For you non-football fans, the game really was, at one point, 28 to 3. In the fourth quarter, the Patriots wrestled it back to 28-28 before going into overtime and winning. At the end of the game (and film), the women are escorted to the locker room, where they meet their heroes. It’s here that Lily Tomlin actually sits down with Tom Brady for the first time. He tells her that she is his hero, then offers a jersey swap: his sweaty one for her bedazzled one. They hug and promise to stay in touch.
Stage Seven: I Need Oxygen and Several More Sour Patch Children Delivered to the Regal Union Square
In these final moments of the movie, I struggle to hear the dialogue because we have descended into the final circle: a heartfelt exchange between Tom Brady and Lily Tomlin, which now has the entire theater in full hysterics. Some people are hootin’. Some are hollerin.’ Others are simply chuckling as alternate-universe Brady shares a sincere—and yet, somewhat sensual and sexual?!—moment with Lily Tomlin. We don’t know if Lily Tomlin is going to survive. We don’t know if Jane Fonda and Gronkowski are literally banging in the corner, which 80 For Brady sets this up as a valid possibility). All I can see is Tom Brady giving his entire soul to this performance. It reminds me of the time I tried to run a 10K without proper training—you have to tip a hat to the effort, but the pavement is not for me. And acting is not for Tom Brady.
The direction of this scene haunted me for days after. Part of me thinks that Brady intentionally stayed out of the film, knowing his limitations. Part of me feels like he actually filmed a lot more than what we saw and it was all cut. But the theory I’ve chosen to settle on is that Tom Brady understands camp more than any of us would ever give him credit for, and this—this overwrought, ridiculous conclusion—is perhaps Tom Brady’s finest work to date.
In the future, the women continue to get together to root for Tom Brady, though their allegiance has now shifted to the Buccaneers. Sally Field, Rita Moreno, and Jane Fonda continue the tradition, along with Lily Tomlin’s daughter, Darlene From Roseanne. I am stunned to see that the writers of this film have made a controversial choice to bid adieu to Lily Tomlin—but that’s quickly squashed, as we learn that Lily is simply in the kitchen getting more chips.
With that, reader, I left the Regal Union Square a changed man. I had not realized Lisa Rinna’s Husband Harry Hamlin had aged so well.
Justin Kirkland is a Brooklyn-based writer who covers culture, food, and the South. Along with Esquire, his work has appeared in NYLON, Vulture, and USA Today.
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