‘80 for Brady’ finds its fans
Boston moviegoers said they were drawn to the female-driven story.
BOSTON — With audiences showing a continued preference to stream movies in the comfort of home, away from crowds and overpriced snacks, the box office take for many films has suffered. But the new comedy “80 for Brady” tested the trend and succeeded. It brought in a higher-than-expected take of $12.5 million and nabbed the number two spot at the box office in its opening weekend, grossing just about $2 million less than the horror film “Knock at the Cabin.”
'80 for Brady'
The movie, set in 2017, follows the misadventures of a group of older women who are such superfans of the New England Patriots, and its star quarterback at the time, Tom Brady, that they decide to take a road trip to see the team play in the Super Bowl in Houston. The stars — Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Rita Moreno and Sally Field — have an average age of 84, making the film a rare template: a road-tripping women’s empowerment movie for the senior set.
Based on the kernel of a true story about a group of female friends who watched Patriots games together weekly, it diverges from reality in nearly every way. The actual coterie never experienced the road trip, or the scams, flirtations, high-stakes poker game, choreographed dance maneuvers, wigs, spicy chicken wing-eating contests, consumption of high-potency weed edibles, and they never met Billy Porter, Guy Fieri, Retta and Patton Oswalt as our protagonists do in the film.
The fact that this AMC 19 theater was in central Boston, where Brady led the Patriots to a half-dozen Super Bowl wins, on the day after he announced his retirement from professional football, acted as encouragement, and the film being named after, featured and produced by Brady didn’t hurt either. (The studio said this announcement was purely coincidental.)
“I’m absolutely a Patriots fan and a Tom Brady fan,” said Dou Yu, 48, a biomedical researcher. “I was going to wait for this on streaming, but I thought since he retired yesterday, it’s kind of a unique moment.”
But it was the plot, and particularly the cast, that was the attraction for many audience members.
“It’s ladies of our age,” said Jane Pappalardo, 79, who attended the 6:15 p.m. showing with her longtime neighbor and friend, Rosalie R. Shane, 78. She gestured toward a life-size poster of the cast.
“I’ve seen every episode of ‘Grace and Frankie’ five or six times,” she said, referring to the popular Netflix series starring Fonda and Tomlin. “I don’t like to see superheroes and violence and shoot-em-ups and things that 20-year-olds want to see. This is for us.”
Shane agreed. “My husband is away for a week, so I’m getting to see my friends and we’re doing fun things. I said to Jane yesterday, ‘You want to get together and get a glass of wine?’ And she said, ‘How about going to see this movie, and then we’ll have a glass of wine.’”
They both laughed.
“It wasn’t exactly at the top of my list,” Shane said. “But, at the same time, I’m very curious. He’s just retired — hopefully for good — and I’ve always loved him. And it seems like it will be a silly, fun movie, and Brady will be in it, and everyone’s talking about Brady. So here I am.”
Her friend, Pappalardo, had a slight difference of opinion. “They could remove Tom Brady from this movie, and I wouldn’t care,” she said.
The women’s attendance fell into a general demographic trend, one that Paramount, which distributed the movie, felt certain it could capture in theaters: women age 35 and above.
“The reality is this picture was acquired for Paramount Plus,” said Chris Aronson, Paramount’s president of domestic distribution, speaking of the studio’s streaming service, which purchased the film from the independent studio Fifth Season.
“But when we saw it and we put it in front of an audience, we realized that we had something that was unique in the marketplace. And certainly, the primary audience was a very specific audience that we knew we could reach.”
“There’s an old line about, you don’t have to make a movie for everybody, but you’d better make it for somebody,” Aronson added.
In fact, according to Paramount’s research, the audience skewed just as predicted. Nearly 70% of attendees were women and nearly 75% were over 35. Fifty percent of attendees were 55 and up.
Moviegoers said they were drawn to the female-driven story.
Latasha Harris, 41, a special products coordinator, was seeking a means of decompressing after work. She finds the theater to be far more immersive as a locus for this kind of release than streaming something in her living room. “At home, you watch a movie, but you still see the mess you need to clean up,” she said.
But she chose the movie specifically for its cast and content. “I love the fact that there’s a movie portraying older women,” she said. “Representation is always important. As a Black woman, it’s awesome to see women, particularly Black women, but women of any kind, on the screen, to see their stories. And in a way that’s not completely centered around a man, and ‘how do I catch this man?’”
This sentiment was echoed by Charity Wangari, 26, a graduate student in aeronautics and astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Wangari had just signed up for AMC’s monthly membership program, and this was her second film in the last two weeks. The first was Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking,” an intense tale of women in a religious sect escaping ritual sexual abuse by the group’s men.
“My goal, or at least I’m trying, is to watch shows and movies that feature women,” she said.
Doris Chin, 66, a retired supervisor from the Boston Public Library, who had seen preview screenings, was already a fan. She was seeing “80 for Brady” for the third time. “As much as I see it, more and more, I actually find it getting better,” Chin said. “I love the cast, especially Rita Moreno, at 91. She’s amazing.”
Chin is also a member of the AMC membership program, and goes to the movies three or four times a week. When asked if she might return for another screening of “80 for Brady,” she shrugged and smiled. “Maybe one more time.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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