Review: Jerry and Marge Go Large — Movies for the Rest of Us with Bill Newcott

There’s an undeniable thrill in seeing two pros give everything they’ve got to this slight, sweet tale.

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Jerry and Marge Go Large

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Rating: PG-13

Run Time: 1 hour 36 minutes

Stars: Bryan Cranston, Annette Bening, Rainn Wilson

Writers: Jason Fagone, Brad Copeland

Director: David Frankel

Reviewed at the Tribeca Film Festival

Streaming on Paramount+

 

A movie can be worth the price of admission if only to spend time in the company of some beloved actors or a few endearing characters. In Jerry and Marge Go Large, you get both: Bryan Cranston and Annette Bening star as Jerry and Marge Selbee, a real-life retired Michigan couple who made millions after figuring out a way to legally exploit the state lottery.

But this is no tale of Golden Years greed: The Selbees, now in their 80s, used their winnings to revive the financial fortunes of their entire town, inviting friends, neighbors, and relatives to get in on the action.

In fact, aside from one manufactured villain — a vain and ruthless Harvard University student who wants all the action for himself (Uly Schlesinger, who comes off as a malevolent Macaulay Culkin) — Go Large is a film without bad guys. Even the Kellogg’s Cereal company suits who push Jerry out of his lifelong job in the opening scene are kind of pleasant, gushing over how his knack for numbers and efficiency has saved the company untold money.

Forced to spend their days together for the first time in 47 years of marriage, Jerry and Marge reach the sad realization that they don’t really have much to offer each other. She putters around the house, he tries fishing in a new boat (which he promptly destroys in a very funny scene). Neither one is happy.

Then, moping at a table in the local diner one day, Jerry picks up a brochure for the Michigan Winfall lottery. One glance at the odds and rules reveals, to his uncannily numerical mind, a loophole: When the jackpot reaches a certain number, the prize money is distributed among all the players who have various combinations of matching numbers that week.

In other words, Jerry realizes, if anyone were to buy enough Winfall lottery tickets on weeks when it switched to this “rolldown” mode, they were guaranteed a profit. And the more tickets they bought, the more money they would win.

Much of the fun in Jerry and Marge Go Large is in watching Cranston’s Jerry test his thesis, timidly removing thousands of dollars from his bank account (without telling Marge), then standing by as distracted convenience store clerks print up thousands of tickets. Cranston is always at his best when registering a character’s understated emotion, and here, his Jerry, tight-lipped and narrow-eyed, seems nevertheless aching to burst into a happy dance when the winnings start pouring in.

Jerry is expecting the worst when he finally has to reveal his scheme to Marge (he’d been hiding all that cash in, ironically, a Kellogg’s cereal box), but she’s thrilled. Finally, she says, here’s something they can do together.

Disaster nearly strikes when Michigan discontinues Winfall, but the resourceful pair learn it’s still being played in Massachusetts, where they find a gas station clerk (Rainn Wilson of The Office) who’s more than happy to turn his lottery printer over to them full-time.

What’s more, they decide, this will be the perfect opportunity to inject some cash into the community. The Selbees form a corporation, invite everyone in town to buy shares, and go to work winning money.

There is no smile in the movies more radiant than that of Bening, who invests in Marge an infectious joy. A perfect counterbalance to poker-faced Jerry, Bening’s Marge hurls herself into the joint project with the glee of a schoolgirl.

Both Cranston and Bening have been denied Oscars for great work (He for Trumbo, she for, well, you name it), and Jerry and Marge Go Large is anything but what you’d call Oscar bait. Still, there is an undeniable thrill in seeing two pros give everything they’ve got to a slight, sweet tale.

As Jerry and Marge would say, you don’t need to score a jackpot to be a big winner.

Featured image: Jerry and Marge Go Large (Tribeca Film Festival)

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