A sweet if toothless “Girls Trip” for the “Golden Girls” crowd, “80 for Brady” unites four Hollywood legends — “Grace and Frankie” duo Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda, Rita Moreno and Sally Field — as a real-life gang of octogenarian amigas who road-tripped to the 2017 Super Bowl to cheer on their favorite quarterback, Tom Brady. Selected as the opening-night cork-popper for the Palm Springs International Film Festival (whose diva-worshiping audience reps the two demographics this featherweight offering serves best: gay and gray), Kyle Marvin’s directorial debut is a pleasant enough reminder that these gals are still game for a good time.
More fuddy-duddy buddy comedy than sports film, the female-scripted laffer (co-written by Sarah Haskins and Emily Halpern) celebrates the fact that football appeals to more than just bros. Never mind that its central foursome seems less interested in Brady’s form than in how well he fills out his uniform. Here, Tomlin’s Lou is stuck at home, recuperating from chemotherapy, and she and her girlfriends Trish (Fonda), Maura (Moreno) and Betty (Field) are frustrated that her TV is stuck on a channel showing football until they catch a glimpse of Brady.
Instant fans, they start gathering at Lou’s house to watch New England Patriots games together. By 2017, Lou is in remission and their team is headed to the Super Bowl, which sparks the plan — not nearly as wild or crazy as the film presumes — for the four of them to attend. (Usually the funniest person in any ensemble, Tomlin is obliged to tone it down here, playing the cancer survivor of the cast.) The script involves a few kooky scenes where they try to win tickets via a call-in contest, though the film really picks up once they have them in hand, starting with a low-key jailbreak in which they must liberate Maura from her retirement home.
Rather than waste any time on the road to Texas, Marvin cuts almost immediately to their arrival in Houston. The helmer (who produced and co-starred in “The Climb” with best friend Michael Angelo Covino) has a tendency to telegraph every joke well in advance, so no one will be surprised when the women manage to lose their tickets. There are broad, benign bits involving the taking of edibles, Trish’s flirtations with a former Super Bowl champ (a charming Harry Hamlin) and Betty’s participation in a hot-sauce eating contest hosted by Guy Fieri. A typical situation, stretched out over several scenes, features Betty learning what “negging” means, then trying it out on a young stud she elbows on the dance floor, only to have him fall for her.
“80 for Brady” may be based on a true story, but it’s presented as pure fantasy: a low-key diversion for these dark and downbeat times. Its four stars are all icons who never stray too far from the personas they’ve created for themselves, though not-yet-80 Field has fun playing a socially awkward, statistics-loving math professor enjoying a bit of time away from her needy husband (Bob Balaban). A vivacious 91, Moreno dances circles around the others, energy-wise — even though the film’s two dance numbers aren’t choreographed or edited to show all that she can do. Fonda’s a hoot as a fan-fiction-writing former “Mayflower Girl” whose beauty-queen background explains the elephant in the room: her work and “what it cost to look like this.”
Mostly, it’s just a pleasure to watch these legends riff off one another, even if the jokes feel oddly patronizing, both to the characters and to its target audience. So many of the comedies Hollywood produces these days feature raunchy “adult” jokes, whereas “80 for Brady” plays it fairly clean. Bizarrely enough, that leaves the PG-13-rated film feeling like a kids movie much of the time, as the women come up with Nickelodeon-level plans to sneak into the stadium (as Billy Porter’s backup dancers) and give Brady the eleventh-hour pep talk he needs. Marvin and DP John Toll (you read that right: two-time Oscar winner John Toll) do a decent job of making it look like the quartet is at the big game, while Brady is a good sport playing both himself and the plastic bobblehead who kicks off the whole show.