You could say Bryan Cranston is breaking bad for good in Jerry & Marge Go Large. He’s one half of the titular couple, who is forced into retirement after 42 years of service for Kellogg. His wife, Marge (Annette Bening), quietly hopes the move will mean they can finally begin enjoying their glory years. His kids (Jake McDorman, Anna Camp) even opt to get him a boat, which Jerry inadvertently damages trying to get it into the water.
Numbers come easier to Jerry than the prospects of meeting new people or trying new experiences. Not one to give the lottery a second thought, he becomes fascinated by the “WinFall” game while sipping his coffee at the convenience store. He does the math and exhausts the probability, revealing that if a person buys enough tickets, the variable of luck is reduced enough to the point that the buyer is favored to win every time. Jerry and Marge start doing just that; they buy thousands of tickets at a time, and when the last one is counted, they’ve about double their money. $8,000 becomes $15,000, which becomes $30,000, and so on.
Jerry and Marge recruit their friends (aka “shareholders”) into the exploitation of the loophole, eventually roping in their accountant (Larry Wilmore) and a gas station attendant (Rainn Wilson), who lets them take over the lottery machine whenever they stop by.
The first act of Jerry & Marge Go Large reminded me a lot of Hope Springs, which makes sense as the common-thread is director David Frankel. Hope Springs focused on an aging couple (Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep), who tried to combat the sadness of being empty-nesters by reinvigorating their sex life. Cranston and Bening have sweet and nimble chemistry as a couple who suddenly have a lot more time on their hands yet aren’t sure how to spend it. Cranston’s Jerry is your typical male baby boomer. He spent so much time working that he forgot to make a life; he’d still be working had his unit not been eliminated. He’s a total square, but Cranston makes his eccentricities likable, even relatable. Bening is also afforded some nice beats, mainly when she grows to embrace risk just enough to push her husband beyond his comfort zone.
Brad Copeland’s screenplay suffers when it introduces hackneyed antagonists in the form of smarmy Harvard kids. Tyler (Uly Schlesinger), who is studying to become a lawyer, just so happens to be writing a paper about lottery probability when he discovers the same loophole in the WinFall game that Jerry did. Tyler and his friends decide to try and partner with Jerry and Marge, but when the older Michigan couple refuses, they resort to using their millennial computer-smarts to undermine their efforts, and in turn the movie.
The film is based on a true story, which was chronicled in a HuffPost article in 2018 by Jason Fagone. The story is mostly faithful, save for the Harvard kids. It’s as if Copeland felt compelled to manufacture some tangible conflict for a story where ideas of uncertain retirement and the thrill of gambling would’ve sufficed. Jerry & Marge Go Large is a mostly nice movie, inoffensive and occasionally spry. But as the Harvard kids might say, it’s aggressively “mid.”
NOTE: Jerry & Marge Go Large is now streaming exclusively on Paramount+
Starring: Bryan Cranston, Annette Bening, Rainn Wilson, Larry Wilmore, Uly Schlesinger, Jake McDorman, and Anna Camp. Directed by: David Frankel.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!