An undemanding comedy that fails to raise the stakes
Jerry And Marge Go Large tells the true story of Michigan retiree Jerry Selbee (Bryan Cranston) and his wife Marge (Annette Bening) who uncover a mathematical loophole that causes them to win big on a state lottery game.
After their first win, the two keep on going, buying thousands of lottery tickets to support both their needs and the needs of the people in their small-town community. Their unusual endeavour wins them a lot of local supporters but when a couple of Harvard whiz kids decide to encroach on their game, Jerry has a tough decision to make about their opportunistic venture.
Such is the synopsis of David Frankel’s feel-good film, a charming enough tale that is elevated by the spirited playing of Cranston and Bening. The story of Jerry and Marge is a fairly enjoyable one, even if the logic behind their gambling pastime is a little fuzzy. I don’t know how closely the film sticks to the truth but for the most part, this is adequate entertainment if you’re after something undemanding to watch on a wet Saturday afternoon.
However, the film lacks dramatic impetus. Other than the Selbee’s occasional run-in with the two bratty Harvard students, there isn’t a lot here to raise the stakes. The couple’s too-good-to-be-true scheme is actually legal so there aren’t any run-ins with the lottery board or the law. Instead, the majority of the film is taken up with Jerry and Marge travelling to various towns out of state to buy and count their tickets. There are the occasional moments of fun to be had when they get into a few minor predicaments, but on the whole, the plotting of this film is rather unexceptional.
Still, this is good-natured enough so, despite the lack of tension, there is a small amount of pleasure to be gained when watching Jerry and Marge travel the country in pursuit of lottery machines. After years of drifting apart because of Jerry’s employment circumstances, it is nice to see them connecting with one another as they bond over their various wins. There is the sense that they aren’t manipulating the game because they want to get rich but rather that they are doing it so they can spend more time in one another’s company. And that is quite sweet really, even if the morality of their actions is a little dubious.
It’s just a shame that, beyond Rainn Wilson’s stoner store attendant, there are very few other characters within the story that engages as much as Jerry and Marge. Most of the people we meet conform to stereotypes and are very thinly written. This isn’t necessarily a big issue as we are predominantly meant to be invested in the lives of the film’s central pairing.
But the overall narrative could have been improved if we knew more about the people in the Selbee’s community and their financial predicaments. Instead, we learn the townsfolk want to raise money for the annual Jazzfest, which doesn’t seem like the best use of the thousands of pounds that they eventually accumulate. I know this is based on a true story but more creative license could have been used to invent characters with more pressing financial needs.
Another issue is the overall tone of the film. Frankel’s direction is competent enough but this never comes across like a theatrical release. It has the look and feel of a television movie so it’s little wonder that the decision was made for this to land quickly on the Paramount+ streaming service. To this extent, a better title may have been ‘Jerry and Marge Go Small’ as, despite the elaborate scheme that Jerry dreams up, this is a film that definitely feels small-scale.
Ultimately, this is a rather simple film that is saved by Cranston and Bening who do what they can to lift the script from its occasional doldrums. There is some fun to be had during the run time, especially during the scene when Jerry wanders into Harvard to take down the upstarts that are trying to interfere with his money-making scheme. But this never engages as it should, so while the film isn’t a bad one, it’s not something you should gamble on if you want a story that has any kind of emotional impact.
Verdict - 6.5/10