Make no mistake, Jerry & Marge Go Large is no Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar. The title seems to promise a rousing caper, but unless you’re tickled by endless shots of Bryan Cranston and Annette Bening, the chuckling to themselves as they exchange The kind of twinkling, adoring looks that should be off-limits for couples who have been married for 46 years, the amusement is scattered terribly thin. David Frankel keeps riding his Devil Wears Prada rep, between TV appearances and unwatchable features (collateral beauty, anyone?). But this utterly toothless, glorified Hallmark film for Paramount+ proves that the director is only as good as his material.
Brad Copeland’s Pedestrian screenplay was inspired by a 2018 HuffPost article by Jason Fagone, which described how Jerry Selbee, a retired Kellogg’s Michigan factory worker with a gift for statistical calculations, found a loophole in a state lottery , which he, his wife Marge and the Friends and Family weather company they founded, which has raked in $27 million in profits over nine years. Without breaking the law.
Jerry & Marge are growing up
The Bottom Line Actually, they go small and flat.
release date: Friday 17 June
Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (Spotlight Narrative)
Pour: Bryan Cranston, Annette Bening, Larry Wilmore, Rainn Wilson, Anna Camp, Ann Harada, Cheech Manohar, Jake McDorman, Michael McKean, Uly Schlesinger, Tracie Thoms
director: David Frankel
screenwriter: Brad Copeland, based on the article Jerry and Marge Go Large by Jason Fagone
Rated PG-13, 1 hour 36 minutes
It’s undoubtedly a fascinating story, with a human angle of interest enhanced here as do-gooders Jerry and Marge distribute the wealth to the residents and business owners of a small working-class town on economic subsistence. But the film is stubbornly uncineastic and surprisingly little at stake. Tiresomely sweet too, with the utterly over-qualified Cranston and Bening in the title roles tapping into folksy oldsterisms to a startling degree.
Copeland spells out every thematic undercurrent, particularly the way Jerry’s fixation with numbers has made him not so good at making connections with people, even his own children. But the lottery program is finally allowing him to use his gift to connect with people.
The lard is applied with a trowel to represent his relationship with the feisty and efficient Marge, who admires her husband’s brains but has been craving for a little more romance lately. Or maybe not recently, considering they’re skipping prom to get married in high school. When a script so meticulously spells out everything, it’s not hard to guess that they’ll be moonlight dancing and fainting like teenagers before we’re done.
David Cronenberg said in a recent interview, “You don’t make a movie about nice people who are all nice to each other. That would be so boring.” Of course there are exceptions, but films like Jerry & Marge Go Large confirm this point. Everyone in this hackneyed version of Evart, Michigan is just so damn nice, from Jerry’s widowed accountant Steve (Larry Wilmore) to quirky neighbor couple Howard (Michael McKean) and Shirley (Ann Harada), they’re boring as dishwater. The same goes for Jerry and Marge’s adult offspring, Dawn (Anna Camp) and Doug (Jake McDorman). His complaint that his father never threw a football with him is almost apologetic.
Conflict arises when another lottery community aggressively attempts to edge out the competition, led by smug Harvard senior Tyler (Uly Schlesinger). With his decrepit quips and elitist assumptions about the Selbees as easy prey, he’s an asshole so irrevocably soulless he exists primarily to be finished off by Jerry with The Big Speech. Mean people may succeed, but they will end up alone and unhappy in this pink world. (For the record, the real students who entered the lottery were from MIT)
A more imaginative script might have created some suspense with the Boston Globe reporter (Tracie Thoms) snooping around on the story. But given that state lottery management is completely relaxed about savvy people buying large numbers of tickets in the “roll-down” weeks between jackpots and then scoring multiple low-to-mid wins, the risk of exposure is high not given at all raise the temperature. Unless you live in the most culturally deprived areas, it’s hard to imagine anyone getting too upset about whether the good folks at Evart can revive their beloved jazz festival.
A unique feature of this particular lottery system is that it requires many hours of human labor, printing thousands of tickets and then manually checking them for days. But nothing Frankel or Copeland do can make the sight of Jerry and Marge in their Walmart closets poking around at lottery machines in a Massachusetts supermarket (after the Michigan lottery abruptly shut down) interesting.
As a cashier at one of these places, Rainn Wilson contributes some affable stoner humor, but most of the time he’s on duty to provide a good narration during Jerry and Marge’s long car rides, who, like everything else, are trying too hard to charm deliver. The road trips are also accompanied by random vintage needle drops – The Spencer Davis Group, Springsteen, The Kinks, The Who. At least these are preferable to the juicy score of Jake Monaco.
The film looks sharp enough, but is surprisingly unremarkable in that regard, considering it was directed by gifted French DP Maryse Alberti, whose name is just another entry in a mysterious list of talents to come from this personality-free material be attracted. I was so bored that I started freely associating the title with Large Marge – the phantom truck driver in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure – and wished I saw her origin story instead.