Tom Brady, Cheating Trump Fanatic, Ruins ‘80 for Brady’
This week, Tom Brady, an NFL quarterback of some note, announced for the second time that he would be retiring from professional football. I’ll believe it when I see it, because about a year ago I wrote an aggravated goodbye-to-Brady piece, watched him return to the game, and then learned about how he only retired as part of a lengthy scheme to personally wield total control over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ football operations. He can act like he’s done but I know he will be throwing pigskin around for the Niners next year, right up until an enterprising safety beats George Kittle off the line and personally breaks three of Brady’s ribs. And even after that arduous 47-year-old man rehab, I’m pretty sure he’ll just keep coming back until he dies on the field.
At the end of 80 for Brady, a new movie concerning the adventures of a group of four older women who really like Tom Brady, our fearsome foursome is sitting on the beach, talking about retirement. Then, they say hey, buddy, what about you? And they cut to Brady, who says, “Hey now, how could I retire when I think I still got it!?” Hours after the news of Brady’s retirement dropped, I was sitting in a suburban movie theater, watching Tom Brady say that he doesn’t want to retire.
He never ends. We will be stuck with this dude forever, slinging those silly slant passes to undersized white receivers until the next plague takes us all. It won’t get him, of course. He will have transcended death by that point, a barely corporeal form kept alive by soil transmuted into blood, more plant than man, living in Peter Thiel’s eternal life arboretum a thousand miles below the surface of the Earth. Soon, he will spread to the surface and bloom across the planet, sole possessor of the world.
There are four octogenarian friends living in New England. They are: Lily Tomlin, a cancer survivor. Jane Fonda, a former model and eternal good-time gal who writes erotic Rob Gronkowski fan-fiction. Sally Field, a stats nerd and a math professor at MIT. And Rita Moreno, a fun-loving woman whose husband just died. Any virtues this movie has are derived from these performers, who are all likable and funny. I’d have loved to watch them in anything else. Tomlin and Fonda, frequent collaborators in recent years, are even plotting to murder Malcolm McDowell in their next film, Moving On.
Unfortunately, they don’t write mortgage checks for black comedies, so the Tom Brady puff piece will have to do for now.
While Tomlin is recovering from cancer back in 2001, our friends are sitting around, watching TV, when they see Brady check into the game and become big fans of his chiseled jaw and underdog spirit. They spend every NFL Sunday with Tom, keeping this tradition up through a major terrorist attack, two wars, the election of the first Black president, growing unease with the onset of climate change, the election of the first reality-TV host president, until 2017, when we meet up with them. The Pats made the Super Bowl that year, facing off against Matty Ice and the cursed Atlanta Falcons. They decide, hey, c’mon man, we gotta go see Tom! Then one of them says, hey, I don’t know if we can do that, because we are old, then another one says, hey, c’mon, we can do anything, it doesn’t matter that we are old. See Tom Brady? Tom Brady is old! Old people can do anything!
Our heroes arrive in Houston. They attend “The NFL Experience,” a carnival that pops up around the Super Bowl every year. There’s little games and contests and shit. We discover that Jane Fonda’s erotic Rob Gronkowski fan-fiction is an actual published quantity, and people everywhere are reading it. We see Fonda giving a sensual reading of this thing in front of a small cadre of her fans. It ends with Gronk fucking the main character in the middle of Gillette Stadium, and the omniscient narrator saying, “It was the best a woman could get.” You know, Gillette’s slogan.
It’s wild to see Jane Fonda, once the most hated woman in America, doing product placement for razors in the middle of a movie that is itself a feature-length commercial for one of America’s most unscrupulous public institutions, whose narrative is built around the magnetic ultrapower of a guy who flashed a Trump hat in his locker at the outset of our former president’s profoundly reactionary campaign and apparently texts with Ron DeSantis.
I don’t want to accuse her of selling out or anything. Fonda has been primarily a presence in this sort of lighter fare for a while, which is cool, especially because she also remains a forceful presence on the lefty activist scene, spending real money to work against fossil fuel companies to forestall climate change. Climate PACs and black comedies don’t pay for themselves.
In 1972, at the height of her status as a public radical, Fonda collaborated with cinema’s all-time Brechtian, recently-departed French iconoclast Jean-Luc Godard on a satirical takedown of movies and art and labor politics called Tout va bien. In one of the film’s opening scenes, the film’s other main character calls a model and asks her to appear in a commercial for the razor brand Remington. He describes it dispassionately: “You’re naked, lying on a fur. There’s a guy behind you, an aftershave model. He takes a couple different electric razors and he shaves with them. Then he rubs his cheek on your behind, and you say, ‘That scratches.’ After a few other brands, he shaves with a Remington. Then he rubs his cheek on your behind again, and you say, ‘It doesn’t scratch anymore.’”
Jane Fonda has appeared in a movie that jokes about the very idea of a horny razor commercial, and another movie where she herself was presenting a joke about a horny story that also functioned as a razor commercial. Look, everyone contains hypocrisies and contradictions, and zeroing in on them as some grand moral failing isn’t going to get us anywhere. She’s done a lot more good for the world than a lot of people and taken more shit for it than a just society would have given.
Besides, this odd coincidence is a perfect summation of our relationship to moving images as our primary form of cultural expression. Sometimes, we are called to be free from their grasp, standing in suspicion of the form of the image, the commercial, ridiculing it. But sooner or later we all surrender to their persuasive utility.
The saga continues. They lose their tickets, and go to a party at a fancy mansion to find them, Fonda makes out with an elderly NFL player in a closet, everyone else takes high-dose THC gummies, Rita Moreno beats Patton Oswalt at poker, Sally Field talks to a boy, Tomlin talks to her daughter about why her doctor is calling her, and expresses fear about the return of her cancer and the death it would surely bring. Eventually they find their tickets. Unfortunately, when they go to enter the game… they’re fake! Oh no. They manage to get in anyway, first because Billy Porter helps them, then because the guy Fonda was making out with gets her into a rich guy’s skybox.
The movie tracks the events and outcome of Super Bowl LI. At first, the New England Patriots get the shit kicked out of them by the Falcons. It’s hilarious. The movie shows NFL Films footage of Brady getting knocked into the dirt on the big screen, and reader, I actually cheered. If the NFL ever releases a picture that is just high-quality film footage of Brady getting lit up for two hours straight, I will be the first person in line.
Our ladies are devastated. They went to all that effort to make it to the game, find the tickets, participate in a dance-off with Billy Porter and get admission to this skybox just to watch Brady get his ass beat on national television while, somewhere, Corbin Smith was watching and hooting in delight. The Pats are down three touchdowns! The ladies have to do something.
They sneak into the coordinator’s booth. Sally Field, whose mastery of numbers has made her into a football savant, forces the defensive coordinator to switch from Cover 2 to Cover 1, which produces immediate results for the boys. Then, Tomlin picks up the offensive coordinator’s mic, and speaks to the man himself. She tells Tom about her fight with cancer, about the struggles she and her friends went through to get into the game, and tells him that, hey, this is his moment, he is the comeback kid, and he will make it happen. As she says this, Brady looks up into the booth with an evil stare, receiving the power he needs to lead the big comeback. Then he yells let’s fucking go! and the Patriots win the game, all because these ladies inspired him.
Tom Brady was not inspired by Lily Tomlin in 2017. He won because he is an excellent player who led a great team that kept throwing while the Falcons pooped their pants in the middle of the field. Everything you read about the persona of Tom Brady tells you that he succeeded because he is psychotically process-minded, unmoved by anything outside of his immediate goals and possessed by the dream of winning football games.
Tom Brady is now widely regarded as the greatest player in the history of the game. He won more titles than any single franchise, slayed every non-Eli Manning dragon put in his path, overperformed in the clutch again and again, and led a culture in New England where Bill Belichick, a football wizard whose idea of managing people is a step removed from MK Ultra brainwashing, could succeed. He did all this after being drafted in the sixth round after a decent-but-not-otherworldly college career, sporting a relatively unimpressive physique. In the abstract, he is the ultimate underdog.
But we do not live in the abstract. We live in the real world, and in that world, Tom Brady is loathsome. He left his pregnant girlfriend for a supermodel, then burned down his family because he wanted to play in the NFL at 46. Lost a buttload of his (and his ex-wife’s) money in a wild crypto scam. Stuck a Trump hat in his locker, right at the dawn of that whole thing, either because he was too blinkered to know that Trump was the tip of a fascist spear or because he is actually an on-the-low fascist. He has empowered and profited off of health-grifting, fucking with his less fortunate teammates’ careers in the process. Charity fraud. Cheated on the field, twice. Kisses his kids on the lips, which is fine I guess, but also weird.
Brady would sit in his never-collapsing pocket, waiting for one of his dumb little receivers to get open, throw one of those stupid little slant passes, move the chains, rinse and repeat on and on forever. While he won like this, everyone else in the NFL was trying shit. Quarterback calling their own plays as a matter of course, wandering out of the pocket, bombing down the field like lunatics. These were wild times for football, but New England was not into any of that. Their victories weren’t beautiful or inspiring. They were rote, inevitable, dull fucking bullshit and everyone who isn’t from Boston or Tampa is glad it’s over forever.
After the game is over, the ladies, personally responsible for that atrocity, are invited into the locker room where they meet the boys. Tomlin speaks with Tom. He says, hey, I couldn’t have done it without you, I am inspired by you, and you can have my jersey, even though “It’s got a lot of sweat on it.” He says this line in an unnatural register with an unrecognizable verbal syntax. It’s all very unconvincing.
The NFL, who has to carry this fucking guy around with them from here on out, wants you to feel like Tom Brady is a man just like you. Instead, you come face to face with a horror show who appears to have no idea how human beings talk. It is as if the simulacrum died, became a lich, sewed together a Tom Brady skinsuit, and had a little conversation with Lily Tomlin. I wanted to leap through the screen and save her from that monster who was calculating how many years he could devour off her life without anyone noticing. He is a blood-curdling, inhuman screen presence.
That’s the original sin of this movie. The actors are charming, some of the bits land — make a feature-length Rita Moreno stoner granny musical and/or a Sally Field old-lady-football-coach comedy as soon as possible, Hollywood — and it’s nice to see a movie about older ladies. But all of it exists in service to him, that little freak who kept dragging dull teams to the Super Bowl while he became less and less real-seeming year after year, sins absorbed in some locked-away painting while his spiritual rot ate away at the light in his eyes.
Michael Jordan, the finest basketball player who ever lived, is more than willing to let you in on his little secret: he’s a freak, driven by ineffability that even he doesn’t quite understand. Everyone knows Tom Brady is a freak. They know it from his actions, from watching him shift around uncomfortably in his human skin, from the way he would dully carve up superior squads in high-leverage situations while being unaffected by context. But when it comes time to sit for the portrait, to give the interview, to appear in a movie, he just acts like this whole thing, his whole thing is just normal. “I’m just a guy, inspired by normal stuff, like you, the audience. I have normal hobbies and normal proclivities,” while cockroaches pour out of his mouth. Making a warm movie about friendship as a tribute to this weirdo is an impossible task.