Tom Brady provided Hollywood free material for literally three decades. The most accomplished quarterback in NFL history, every stage of his football journey could've powered a new script: the afterthought backup-turned-Super Bowl champion, the clutch captain of the Patriots dynasty, and the 40-year-old savior of the Buccaneers. Twenty-three seasons. Seven rings. Three MVPs. And now, as he settles into retirement at 45, one untouchable legacy.
No one would've blinked had Brady handpicked one of the biggest movie stars to bring his story to the big screen. You can picture it now: a Tom Cruise, or perhaps Mark Wahlberg, bulking up to wear the No. 12, with confetti and trophies littered throughout the screenplay. It would be a "Rudy" for our times. An "Invincible" for Boston.
Instead, with "80 for Brady," the QB's Paramount Pictures production (now streaming on Paramount+), there isn't one big-name actor carrying the load, but four. And they just so happen to be women.
Hitting theaters a week before Super Bowl LVII, only the fourth title game in the last nine years not to feature Brady, the film stars Lily Tomlin, 83; Jane Fonda, 85; Rita Moreno, 91; and Sally Field, 76. All four have either won or been nominated for an Academy Award, and all four came to prominence on screen in the 1960s, giving them a natural connection to Brady as multigenerational entertainers. They play a quartet of elderly Patriots fans who embark on a trip to attend Super Bowl LI, desperate for a special girls' getaway and a chance to see the superstar who inspired their fandom (you can guess who).
Brady has a relatively prominent role in this -- and flows like a natural, portraying himself -- alongside cameos from ex-Patriots teammates Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. By nature of the film's premise, there are obviously hints of self-congratulations, a la LeBron James in "Space Jam: A New Legacy." (The main gals hardly shed their sequined Brady jerseys!) The NFL also lends a healthy amount of real footage from Brady's most heroic Super Bowl, when he led a historic comeback from down 28-3, to fuel a fuzzy fabrication of what actually motivated New England's turnaround.
Still, the focus of "80 for Brady" isn't so much Brady himself, but rather those cheering, laughing and struggling around him.
Loosely based on a true story of four widows who used Sunday gatherings -- and shared adoration of Brady -- to maintain a lifelong friendship, the movie is part road-trip comedy, part buddy-drama, part sports-doc. And, frankly, it's much better than it has any right to be (sound familiar?), recalling silly lite-adult fare of the early-2000s variety. The four leads have seamless chemistry. The whole thing goes down easy, just like its needle drop of Diana Ross' "It's My House."
Why, however, is this the big-screen vehicle of Brady's choice?
"He just goes out on the field and does his job every day," says director Kyle Marvin, making his feature debut. "And when you do it that many times, at that level, and people put their faith in you and you deliver, you sort of can become something more than just 'you.' There's a tremendous power in that. And I think the power doesn't even have to come from the things he says, but rather the things he does. And that's what sort of unifies these women: they watch him go out there and get beat up and get smashed and stand up and do it again, and that's the sort of sentiment that is true with friendship as well."
Brady's improbable run as an NFL icon has drawn critique in addition to unanimous respect: how greedy can you get, playing long enough to literally square off against the offspring of old peers, with a record seven titles already in hand? Brady admitted before he long passed the point of proving himself to skeptics or the rest of the league; his late-career decisions, like returning at age 45 in 2022 after a mere 40 days of his first "retirement," were made solely for himself and the teammates around him.
And yet the man who weathered so many different football seasons is cognizant of the beacon he's become for so many real people, in real seasons of life.
"He brings people together, and he has throughout his whole career," says Sally Field, who plays Betty. "Whatever team you're rooting for, you cannot not root for him because of how magical he's always been on the field. I know that he feels that and is aware of that, this magic that he has."
To be certain, even playing second-fiddle to the leading ladies, Brady had plenty of sway behind the scenes. He and his 199 Productions, named for where he was picked in the 2000 draft, were kicking off the project before Marvin was tapped to direct. ("Truly as soon as Tom Brady attaches to the movie," Marvin says, "there is a tremendous amount of momentum that is gained just from that act alone.") When Brady un-retired just as filming began, the ending was rewritten to less of a "final" note.
And then there was his time on set, where he revisited Patriots colors on the field and in the locker room.
"Acting is not an easy activity to do naturally," director Kyle Marvin says. "We can all stand in a mirror and deliver lines, but in the context of a large set, with a lot of people and not a lot of time, and very high stakes, it changes the whole dynamic. (Tom) was well equipped to that pressure, and I think that gave him a leg up. He's obviously had, like, a lot higher pressure than that particular scenario. So I think that comfort under fire gave him an advantage in the acting department."
Field, who's starred in more than 40 films, agrees that Brady's preparation skills were apparent.
"There are a lot of the same ingredients in sports and acting," she says. "Luckily, I don't get smashed by these big 300-pound people coming my way -- uh, thank you, God -- but the use of your adrenaline to complete a task, it's the same kind of thing, whether you have to say lines or learn dialogue or you've got the ball and you've gotta throw it. ... Tom's just completely natural. And so great to be around, so humble, saying, 'Oh, gosh, well, OK, I'm nervous, but I can do it.' Whatever he wants to do when he's an older person, he'll be able to do."
"Older," of course, takes on a different definition with Brady. That was never more apparent to Marvin than during shooting for the movie's strongest PG-13 moment, when the 45-year-old QB delivers a signature "Let's f---ing go!" on the sidelines.
"It got out of control," Marvin says. "Mostly because Edelman, Amendola and Gronk were there, as well as a bunch of actors in full football gear and a bunch of people in the stadium, and every time we did it, people would just start screaming and yelling. People would just start screaming involuntarily, even if we said, 'Please don't say anything. Let him say his line, and everyone be quiet.' Without question, every time he yelled it, it was this electric feeling. There was definitely a point where the producers turned to me and were like, 'OK, stop.'"
No one, it seems, could get enough of the ageless wonder pumping them up. Yes, Tom Brady is older than the rest, but more often than not, he was also doing it bigger or better than the rest. It's a precise parallel to the older women who scratch and claw their way to glory in his movie. And while "80 for Brady" is goofy and fantastical and occasionally tailored for your favorite assisted living facility audience, it's done in a way -- through the lens of tightknit friends at different places medically, romantically and relationally -- that somehow quietly reiterates why Tom Brady truly matters.
After a down year in Tampa, he is retiring again, this time for good. (Field, for one, wasn't too keen on a potential 49ers team-up, growing up a Rams fan, but says she encouraged Brady to move to the West Coast while he was busy pitching his castmates on their own comebacks.) But the QB's legacy, built from the ground up in New England and carried over to Tampa, will survive long after his final goodbye -- a career that galvanized fans, neighbors, family and friends who were fortunate enough to witness his No. 12 command a field and find the promised land, over and over and over.