Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Johnny California: 80 FOR BRADY

 by JB

Not since Bridesmaids in 2011 have we seen a movie fighting against itself so noisily and violently for narrative supremacy.

Once, when commenting on a film that was all over the map in terms of dialogue, plot, and tone, our very own Patrick Bromley said, “It’s like you can see the different color script pages.” That’s a sharp and succinct way to sum up a malaise common to current film, and I quote it a lot. (Patrick has a habit of doing that, saying things that stick in your mind years later. The other two Patrick Bromley bon mots [#BromMots] that I think about at least once a month are “You can’t just say words” and “Excuse me, I’m going to go make toast in the bathtub.”)

If you recall, Bridesmaids was two films awkwardly Frankenstein-ed together: 1) a whimsical, contemplative film about romance and getting older and making decisions and 2) an obvious, gross-out comedy wherein five talented young actresses suffer a bout of diarrhea together and literally shit in the street. Thanks, Judd Apatow.

If you remember, the best scene in Bridesmaids is wordless: Kristin Wiig bakes herself a cupcake and quietly and slowly eats it at her kitchen counter. Imagine... subtlety.
80 For Brady suffers from the same malady, and it’s a particular shame because the film stars four beloved American actresses who are still at the tops of their games. For those of you keeping score (See what I did there?) the two films hiding inside of 80 For Brady, punching each other in the balls when Mom isn’t looking are:

1) a film with serious themes like grief and loss and something interesting to say about them. This is likely the film that tricked Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Rita Moreno, and Sally Field into signing on. This is the film I kinda liked.

2) a grotesque, unfunny fantasy about what the lives of octogenarians must be like, written and directed by people who, based on the evidence in their film, have never lived a life and have no clue about the way human beings talk, feel, and behave. This nonsensical material is all in the trailer. This is the film I kinda hated.

The Plot in Brief: Four older New England Patriots fans—Lou, Trish, Betty, and Maura—take the opportunity of the team’s 2017 Super Bowl appearance to actually attend the big game. Through a series of unfunny misadventures involving a “strap-on,” not actually having tickets, and a hot-wings-eating-contest, the four Super Fans end up affecting the outcome of the game. The film is “based on a true story.”
Besides different colored script pages, some sort of C-grade screenplay manual is also in evidence in almost every frame of the film. It’s beyond clich√©. Lily Tomlin feels she has to knock over a bowl of chips at the start of every New England Patriots game to insure their win. She is the heart and soul of the quartet. Jane Fonda is a former model who still dresses as if she is in her mid-twenties. She writes profitable fan fiction in which she seduces legendary Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. She is the sexy one. Rita Moreno stays at the Assisted Living facility where her husband passed away, even though she still owns a house. She’s the sad one. Sally Field has a fanny pack that she refers to as a “strap-on;” various characters correct her word choice as the film goes on. Yet Sally Field’s character is a former University mathematics professor. She is the smart one.

Hiding in this Super Bowl porta-potty of a movie is THE MOVIE THAT IT COULD HAVE BEEN. Lily Tomlin has health issues that she is unwilling to share with family and friends. Jane Fonda appears in two fearless scenes without any makeup or wigs to show our youth-obsessed culture what a stunning but actually 80-year-old woman actually looks like. Rita Moreno has a short, beautiful monologue about missing her husband that will tear your heart out. What if the film explored those themes and leavened them with thoughtful, human-sized jokes? No, that’s a very different film, a film that is far more difficult to write. Or is it EXACTLY the film that Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins originally wrote, before it was side-lined by studio interference? I’d like to know. Sally Field is so good and funny and spot-on in every scene that it makes you wish the film had not wasted so much of her screen time (and our patience) on a moronic hot-wings-eating contest that seems to go on forever. (SIDE NOTE: The one thing this scene gets right, though it is never explored for its full comic potential, is that many older people lose the ability to enjoy subtle flavors and prefer their food to be heavily spiced so they can taste it at all. My own mother suffered from this and preferred her pizza blanketed with red pepper.)

Oh, did I mention Tom Brady is in the film? He is.
The ubiquitous television commercials for 80 For Brady shout that Brady and Gronkowski actually appear in the film. Those same commercials also extol appearances by Billy Porter and Guy Fieri. As I sat in the theater though, I wondered if any more people would be persuaded to see it if they knew that Glynn Turman (who was in the original Broadway cast of A Raisin in the Sun in 1959), Sara Gilbert, Harry Hamlin, Academy Award nominee Sally Kirkland, Bob Balaban, Ron Funches, Alex Moffat, Robb Corddry, and Patton Oswalt also show up? Hey, 80 For Brady marketing team: You Gotta Tell ‘Em to Sell ‘Em!*

The only reason I dragged my big behind to the theater is because I love these ladies. Lily Tomlin is a ground-breaking stand-up comedian who helped make Laugh-In that cultural phenomenon it remains to this day. Her network stand-up specials in the early seventies led to Saturday Night Live, where she was one of the first hosts. Jane Fonda is one of the greatest living American actresses with a filmography as long as my arm and two Oscars. Rita Moreno started making moves in 1952; her first film was Singing in the Rain. She is a rare EGOT winner: Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony. And don’t get me started on how terrific Rita Morena was as an original cast member on The Electric Company, PBS’s “sequel series” to Sesame Street that aimed for a slightly older audience and extolled the joys of reading. Sally Field is the OTHER greatest living American actress.** She also has two Oscars, and we like her... we really, really like her.
These actresses are national treasures. They deserved better.

*80 For Brady was the #1 Movie in America for five whole days last week. I guess the marketing team did not need my help after all.

** With apologies to Meryl Streep.

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