Would you like to have your faith in humanity restored? Have I got a movie for you!
Jerry & Marge Go Large is based on the true story of Jerry (Bryan Cranston) and Marge Selbee (Annette Bening) who used a loophole in the Massachusetts State Lottery to win $27 million.
Jerry, a natural math wiz, recently retired from the Kellogg’s cereal factory near his hometown in Evart, Michigan. Bored one day, Jerry realizes that, at a certain level of investment, the odds in the Winfall lottery begin to tip in the player’s favor. There’s nothing illegal about what Jerry is doing. As he says, “It’s not against the rules to buy tickets.”
Once Jerry and Marge realize how lucrative this can be, they move to a private island and spend their days drinking fun, fruity cocktails. Kidding! What makes this movie so special is that the Selbees decide to share their newfound wealth. Jerry forms a corporation, inviting everyone in his small town to invest, spreading the money and infusing capital into the struggling town. Suddenly the ice cream shop and the book store are open again. The town’s popular jazz fest returns. The story is that charmingly simple.
Its characters don’t stray far from that tone. Jerry finds comfort in the logic math provides but struggles to connect with people. Cranston excels at playing that awkwardness—of a man more at ease with numbers than with people—and his authentic performance makes the movie sweet but not saccharine. Jerry’s son Doug (Jake McDorman) doesn’t have his dad’s gift for math and doesn’t always remember his dad’s numbers obsession fondly. That often leaves Marge trying to compensate for her husband’s lack of warmth. “He just doesn’t know the formula for ‘I miss you,’” Marge tells her daughter Dawn (Anna Camp).
The supporting cast is terrific, but there are two performances that make the film. Rainn Wilson’s Bill Madres works at the convenience store where Jerry and Marge buy their tickets. Easygoing Bill is going through a contentious divorce and might be one of the laziest store employees; Wilson hits just the right note of someone who does the minimal effort necessary but still isn’t a jerk. Uly Schlesinger is pitch-perfect as the movie’s villain, Tyler. The Harvard undergrad also figures out the Winfall loophole and wants to put the Selbees out of business. “Look at you guys. It’s like Up,” he sneers. I’m not saying every Harvard undergrad I’ve ever met is like Tyler, but living in the Boston area, I’ve met a lot of Tylers. Schlesinger’s condescending smirk is, shall we say, very familiar. “You really going to let some college smartass take all this away from you?” Doug asks. A movie this sweet and sincere needed an antagonist and Tyler adds just the right amount of strife.
All this surrounds the Selbees’ marriage, which has fallen into a rut where the highlight of their day is watching Jeopardy and playing cards with their neighbors Howard (Michael McKean) and Shirley (Ann Harada). “I’ve waited 40 years for it to be just us and so far we kind of suck at it,” Marge tells him. After learning of Jerry’s lottery scheme, Marge tells him she’d “rob a bank if it gave us something to talk about.” Bening is delightful, relishing in the adventure their monthly trips to Massachusetts provide.
In fact the whole town has fallen into a rut. Real estate agent Howard can’t convince anyone to buy; Jerry’s accountant Steve (Larry Wilmore) is struggling to move on after the death of his wife. Not everyone will be able to come up with a lottery scheme to make their retirement years interesting, but the idea that there are still things left to discover about yourself, your spouse, your family and your friends after the age of 60 courses through the movie. In an industry still obsessed with youth, the message of Jerry & Marge Go Large is one worth celebrating. And I already adored this movie, but the fact that no one felt the need to use an exaggerated Massachusetts accent made me love it all the more.
Jerry & Marge Go Large is a winner.
Director: David Frankel
Writer: Brad Copeland
Starring: Bryan Cranston, Annette Bening, Rainn Wilson, Larry Wilmore, Michael McKean, Ann Harada, Jake McDorman, Anna Camp, Uly Schlesinger
Release Date: June 17, 2022 (Paramount+)
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer and a member of the Television Critics Association. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal).