Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Sally Field, and Rita Moreno attending the Super Bowl in the movie 80 for Brady

80 FOR BRADY is a Fancy Grandma Adventure That Works

Plenty has been written about the enabling of the streaming-era ubiquity of geezer teasers, direct-to-video action movies that tantalize older viewers with heavily advertised appearances, often brief, from stars of yesteryear like John Travolta, Sylvester Stallone, or Bruce Willis. But for women of a certain age who aren’t particularly associated with crime thrillers or gunplay, there’s a parallel track involving more screentime, less (though not zero) nefarious marketing, and actual theatrical releases: Fancy Grandma Adventures, wherein a group of actresses (usually four) with storied careers (usually at least two Oscars) get together for a groove-reacquiring girls’ night that lasts around two hours.

The Robert De Niro of this emerging mini-genre—the workhorse who seems to really enjoy working—is Diane Keaton, whose close associations with Nancy Meyers made Book Club (also starring Jane Fonda, Mary Steenburgen, and Candice Bergen) into a stop-gap solution for anyone craving cream sweaters, copper pots, and post-menopausal reclamations of purpose. A sequel is coming this spring. Steven Soderbergh even made a vaguely art-house version of this story with Let Them All Talk, where Bergen, Dianne Wiest, and Meryl Streep play old friends reuniting on a cruise ship.

80 for Brady is a Fancy Grandma Adventure based on a true story—
presumably in the sense that at least once, a group of older women went to the Super Bowl together. (A real-life photo is provided as the credits roll; no other details accompany it.) Keaton is inexplicably absent, but Book Club’s Fonda appears, joined by her frequent co-star Lily Tomlin, plus Oscar winners Sally Field and Rita Moreno. After becoming diehard fans of the New England Patriots later in life, the four women decide to get themselves into NRG Stadium in Houston to watch what could be Tom Brady’s final Super Bowl appearance in 2017. Being in his 40s, they reason, he is “80 in people years,” just like them.

The age spread here is larger than the title suggests. Moreno is an extremely spry 91, while Field is a mere 76—though there is a running gag about Field’s character reminding the others that she is not above 80 quite yet. More misjudged is the film’s promotional relationship to the NFL (not even Oscar-winning legend Rita Moreno can say “Super Bowl” without explicit permission) and booster relationship to Brady, who produced this paean to his indefatigable spirit. There’s something borderline insulting about middle-class women circling 80 turning to a rich and wildly successful pro athlete for inspiration, and unambiguously condescending when Brady appears to return the favor.

Yet even with this substantial handicap, 80 for Brady is far better than it needs to be: better than Book Club, better than Fancy Grandpa Adventure Last Vegas, better than most of Diane Keaton’s movies from the past decade. (It’s not as good as Let Them All Talk; that’s the Soderbergh difference at work.) It’s a given that the actresses at the center of the movie will be charming and likable, effortlessly drawing upon their decades-long careers; it’s less expected that they’ll be matched with a filmmaker whose camera doesn’t just regard them with slack-jawed, soft-focus awe. Kyle Marvin, who produced, co-wrote, and co-starred in the formally ambitious indie comedy The Climb, is the semi-inexplicable director of 80 for Brady, and he’s not exactly breaking the form; for every elegant tracking shot following the characters through physical space, there’s at least one that looks like it was interrupted by the tedious practicalities of covering a studio comedy. But every little bit of visual interest helps, and Marvin keeps finding ways to get all four of these legends in the frame at once, maximizing their chemistry. He’s made a movie that doesn’t feel completely divorced from the style of The Climb, giving the people what they want but can’t articulate: a shot that manages to organically fit the profiles of three Oscar winners and one Oscar nominee into one image.

That pleasantly unforced dignity also applies to the screenplay for 80 for Brady, credited to Trophy Wife creators Sarah Haskins and Emily Halpern. There’s plenty of silly stuff about accidental drug-taking, unlikely dance numbers, and shenanigans involving vexed authority figures, but Haskins and Halpern have a light, non-cranky touch, and they don’t have to goad a bunch of legends into mugging. That the movie isn’t really laugh-out-loud funny seems secondary to the fact that it’s not punishingly unfunny; there’s a sparkle of infectious self-amusement throughout. The obligatory serious stuff even feels a bit lived-in, like Bob Balaban playing Sally Field’s soft-spoken but dependent, even quietly demanding, husband, or Rita Moreno’s restless widowhood. The movie has a sweetness that reveals itself as surprisingly, gratifyingly durable. By the end, I caught myself feeling a little moved by Tomlin’s insistence on moving forward. Poetically speaking, it’s not quite Pacino’s “inches” speech from Any Given Sunday; spiritually, it’s not too far removed.

Make no mistake: Much of 80 for Brady is as tacky as the sparkly jerseys the Fancy Grandmas don in inexplicable deference to their title sports god. But in a way, presumably unintentional, the evil NFL serves as a shield for these wholesome actresses, bearing the brunt of the movie’s worst instincts and the blame for its worst compromises, allowing the cast to move through the hideous scenery unscathed by the corporate hellfire and tracked by Marvin’s camera. Maybe Fun Grandma Adventures make it to the big screen while geezer teasers are relegated to the depths of streaming because their stars are actually interested in earning their top billing. 80 for Brady may be a trifle, but it’s a trifle that shows up.