A Mount Rushmore of eighty-something talent lives in the thinly dimensioned world sketched out by the makers of “80 for Brady“. Jane Fonda, Sally Field, Lily Tomlin, and Rita Moreno, with 12 Oscar nominations and 5 wins between them, nevertheless, make it as habitable as possible.
New England Patriot fans since their first glimpse at athlete, Tom Brady, they’re a veritable, often irritable gaggle of gerontological groupies. For years, they’ve ogled him through the filter of an aging television set. But suddenly that’s not enough. The desire to feast their eyes upon him during live play at a Super Bowl now tops their bucket lists. And as they can’t afford to make it to Houston on their own dollar, their octogenarian fan girl story has won them an all expense paid opportunity to do just that.
The broad strokes of their somewhat stereotypical back stories unfold with ease. Serial monogamist, Trish (Jane Fonda), a best selling author protected by a pseudonym, is forever in love. But never in love forever. Betty, (Sally Field), MIT graduate and overall smarty-pants, is a genius mathematician and problem solver. Oddly, she lives with an indecisive, insecure husband who isn’t able to decide on which tie to wear. Maura, (Rita Moreno) a stuck widow with financial means, remains in a retirement community where she and her husband spent his last days – because he used to like it there. And Lou, (Lily Tomlin) a cancer survivor afraid she’s in for a second run at it, won’t open a letter that contains her current test results. At least not until after she and her pals make it to Houston for the big game.
Producer/writer turned Director, Kyle Martin, (God’s Time, The Climb) fast-paces us through the first third of the film, setting the stage for the women’s Houston shenanigans. There’s much character development to build in order to make what comes next believable. Yet Martin seems content to side-swipe backstory in the rush to get us to the game. This decision will come back to haunt the film down the track.
Writing veterans, Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins, (Booksmart, Good Girls), do good work keeping the characters uniquely tied to their individual foibles. But no amount of alchemy can turn this sitcom pablum into gold. Bridging that gap turns out to be up to us and the relationship we’ve built with the actresses after decades of witnessing their inspired choices.
In Houston, Trish will meet ex-footballer, Dan (Harry Hamlin) and attempt to avoid offering herself up as relationship road kill. Betty will need to unearth the emotional wherewithal needed to let her husband solve his own problems. Maura must dig deep into her experience of grief in order to learn how to move on with life. And Lou might find out she can get herself to the goal line, any goal line, even if it turns out to be the last one.
Once in Texas the film is overtaken by the testosterone-induced euphoria of football. Wisely, Martin has chosen to tamp down actual game footage to do what’s necessary to unspool the plot. But it’s a lot of work to get there. For them, and for us. And in the end we are left to ponder why these four sublime women – who fought for authenticity throughout their long careers – will now settle for caricature over character.
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