Tuesday, June 13, 2023

"80 For Brady”: Before Time Passes Us By

On a flight back to L.A. following a trip that was alternatively inspiring and stressful, I was looking for light-weight entertainment on my seatback system. That’s why I turned to 80 for Brady, a comedy I knew would distract me from the cares of my everyday world. How could it fail to amuse, given that its cast was headed by some of Hollywood’s most reliable veterans? The combined star power of Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Rita Moreno, and Sally Field (not to mention their combined Oscars, Emmys, and other accolades) was sure to divert me from my own anxieties. And so it (mostly) did.

 Very loosely based on an actual group of octogenarians with super-sized crushes on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, the plot features four lifelong friends of a certain age who stake everything on a trip to Houston to cheer on their hero in Super Bowl LI.  Of course the differences between the four women are sharply delineated. Trish (Jane Fonda) is a still-glamorous former beauty queen with a record number of failed romances. Maura (Rita Moreno) is a recent widow whose life in a dead-end retirement home is stifling her competitive spirit. The youngster of the group is Betty (Sally Field), who keeps reminding everyone that she’s personally not yet 80. She’s (theoretically) the responsible one: a mathematics whiz whose fellow-professor spouse (Bob Balaban) is a bit too clingy for the good of their marriage. Finally there’s Lou (Lily Tomlin), whose need for a big adventure at this point in her life clouds her judgment, and is the axis around which this story turns.

 I always dread movies that demean “cute” senior citizens by showing them trying to emulate younger, hipper folks. And of course there’s some of that here, including the inevitable (sigh!) sequence in which they accidentally trip out on cannabis gummies. And I winced when so much of the plot hinges on the search for an essential lost item (yes, I too had just lost something important, which is why this plane trip was so fraught for me.) Still, there’s fun to be had when the four overcome the world’s easy stereotypes about the elderly by showing they can dance like champions, play a killer hand of cards, and emerge victorious from a spicy food competition hosted by TV’s Guy Fieri.

 What startled me, in retrospect, was the weird parallel between 80 For Brady and the kind of movie my peers and I enjoyed when we were teenagers. One big hit in my junior highs school crowd was 1960’s Where The Boys Are. It’s the story of four college co-eds (back then the term was still used) who head south to Florida for spring break. Of course their #1 goal is romance, and they mostly find it, with very mixed results. The natural leader of the group (Dolores Hart) discovers the kind of love that may last a lifetime. The joker (Paula Prentiss in her film debut) finds an equally tall, equally goofy opposite number (Jim Hutton), and they briefly enjoy a romantic romp. Poor Angie (recording star Connie Francis) never succeeds at love, but she gets to sing the plaintive title song, which was soon blasting from radios throughout the country. And the most serious of the plotlines features lovely Yvette Mimieux whose trusting nature leads her into a genuine crisis.

 The ladies of 80 for Brady are mostly not looking for love, or even sex. Their problems are darker: widowhood, the diminishing of personal autonomy, life-threatening illness. Which doesn’t stop them from having fun wherever they can find it.

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