A feel-good film
David Frankel directs wonderful actors Bryan Cranston and Annette Bening in the gentle feel-good comedy Jerry & Marge Go Large. Based on a true story and currently screening on Tribeca at Home, Jerry & Marge Go Large tells the tale of a Midwest couple whose dreams to have fun finally materialize. It was featured in its world premiere in the Spotlight Narrative segment at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival.
Recently retired Jerry Selbee (Bryan Cranston), a kindly, moderate, well-adjusted dad, and husband to exuberant Marge (Annette Bening), is lost. Having functioned like a well-oiled machine at his job, Jerry finds his line closed down at the factory. Having dedicated years to his job, he’s not ready to retire. But what remains?
Thrilled, Marge plans on having fun for the rest of their lives. On the other hand Jerry can’t see his way out of feeling useless and without purpose.
After a few weeks or so, Jerry, a superb mathematician, casually reads the back of a lottery card and lightning strikes. He recognizes a loophole that, if exploited, will result in a high probability of making a nice sum of money. Sneaking to the couple’s bank behind Marge’s back out of embarrassment, he tries his skill at collecting some ready cash winnings by playing the lottery. But he fails. Because the couple know each other well, Marge suspects something, but Jerry, undeterred, realizes the mistake he made and tries his mathematical loophole again.
Studying math good for something after all
This time he succeeds. But how does he keep his embarrassment at playing the lottery, which he and Marge never did, under wraps? Jerry must figure out what to do with his thousands without alerting Marge. In a funny scene Jerry sneaks to the pantry and stuffs the money in empty boxes and a popcorn tin. During a family get-together, his granddaughter fights with him over the tin; she wants popcorn. Jerry nearly loses it. Well acted by Cranston, this ironic moment ups the stakes. Then the first turning point occurs when Marge confronts Jerry. Finally, he admits the truth.
Happily the fun and enjoyment of their lives begins at his truthful admission. Instead of criticizing Jerry Marge appreciates his mathematical genius and encourages him to do more. And she helps him. Cranston and Bening are believable and comfortable in authentic and realistic portrayals.
Helping the town regenerate
With quiet humor and excellent ensemble performances from the other actors (Rainn Wilson, Larry Wilmore) the story unfolds naturally. Living large, Jerry and Marge help the small town regenerate. Jerry’s family and friends succeed at forming a lucrative corporation based on the lottery loophole. Overcome by work, Jerry now relaxes, they have sex and discover a new form of enjoying each other. As Jerry befriends all in the town, he and Marge have a new sense of purpose. The winnings keep coming. All remains legal because Jerry keeps the tickets to show the IRS. And with his mathematical skills popping, he increases the cash earnings. To give back as Marge suggests, they consider how to further help the town.
With their corporation meetings to discuss dividends and enlarging the probability of winning millions, they decide to renovate buildings and broken-down spaces. As Jerry, Marge, friends and family increase their cash flow legally, they spend the money on purchases long dreamed about. Though Jerry and Marge don’t change their lifestyle, they enjoy watching others enhance their lives. Indeed, “all’s well that ends well.”
Not! Into this paradise and heavenly situation comes the devil.
A challenge from a Millennial Harvard freshman
Electing for complications, screenwriter Brad Copeland takes John Fagone’s article about the real couple and spins in risks and dangers. Enter the devil represented by a Millennial Harvard freshman who prefers to get rich quick rather than live up to his father’s dreams. Uly Schlesinger portrays the unctuous, wily, and utterly obnoxious Tyler. The Ivy Leaguer marshals a large group of students, some friends, some acquaintances, to help him play the loophole for what it’s worth. But when he gets too greedy, his gamesmanship turns into sour grapes that he directs at Jerry and Marge.
In a dictatorial warped move reminiscent of those corporates who believe all’s fair in corporate competition, Tyler searches out Jerry and Marge and presents them with a proposition they must deal with. Marge attempts to buck up Jerry’s downhearted spirits. How the rest of the film spins out is worth seeing. Also worth seeing are enjoyable, seamless performances by the perfectly cast Wilson, Wilmore, Anna Camp, Jake McDorman and Michael McKean. Older filmgoers will love to hate Schlesinger’s villainous Tyler. Younger adherents of dark money will cheer him on, if they ignore his penchant for back-stabbing.
Cranston, Bening make the film a success
Key to the feel-good success of the film are Bryan Cranston and Annette Bening’s natural infusions of happiness, which ring with sincerity. That this is based on a true story – that the real-life Jerry Selbee’s mathematical genius identified a loophole that brought large amounts of cash into the lives of the couple and their town – rocks. Indeed, all math teachers should show the film to young students to encourage them to understand the true benefits of math, and specifically probability, statistics, and computer algorithms.
Down in the dumps? See this film. You won’t necessarily belly laugh. Nor will you find a profound message other than love, compassion, kindness and karmic giving. However, Jerry’s ultimate response to Tyler on campus is right on brilliant, though Tyler doesn’t get it at the time. Look for it.
You may still find Jerry & Marge Go Large at Tribeca at Home.