A movie like Jerry & Marge Go Large is what happens when a film producer or director reads an interesting article on a weekend morning over their coffee and decide it should make a good movie. There’s just one problem. It needs some foolish antagonist to come in that makes no sense for being there.
Jerry Selbee (Bryan Cranston) is the type of middle-aged Midwesterner who has a closet full of khaki slacks and gingham buttoned down shirts. He just retired from his job from Kellog after 42 years as a production line manager with his mathematical analyses. His kids buy him a boat but he’s not the type to spend his retirement fishing. As he tells his wife, Marge (Annette Bening), he doesn’t have much in his closet except clothes for work.
One day he goes down to the convenience store in Evart, Mich., for a cup of coffee and notices a Winfall lottery playcard and by using his knowledge of mathematics discovers a loophole in its structure. If one person was to buy so many tickets, they could win big. At first, he only breaks even and then notices a mistake he made. Then on his second attempt of betting $8,000, he nearly doubles it.
But the local convenience store soon discontinues it and the closest store is in western Massachussetts. Initially worried about how Marge will feel, he hides the money but when he lets it slip he won, she’s in for it. It gives them excitement as they load up the pick-up truck with snacks and luggage for the trip. They find a small gas station operated by a simple going cashier, Bill (Rainn Wilson), who just sees them as a bunch of regular customers and lets them do it themselves.
And they win bigger this time. Realizing they can help the small town community they’re from, they get locals to invest in GS Investment Strageties. This helps out Jerry’s accountant, Steve (Larry Wilmore), a widower who also runs a travel agency out of his office. The investment helps bridge the relationship gap between Jerry and his son, Ben (Jake McDorman) who’s more of a blue-collar worker with his construction business.
Everyone wins big as they put some of the winnings into revitalizing some businesses as well as the dilapidated jazz hall. It seems like it should be a happy-feel-good story about some Midwestern common people who finally got a bigger slice of the pie. And everyone in the movie seems to work with the gee-golly-gee simple life including Jerry and Marge’s friends, Howard (Michael McKean) and Shirley (Ann Harada).
But there’s a problem brewing. And the problem is that it’s impossible to tell a story like this without fudging some of the facts. I agree some artistic license is needed by making it a more modern story. But what’s not needed here is antagonist especially since the didn’t have any problems in real life. Enter a group of Harvard kids who come into the movie so late, they function more as a distraction rather than a necessity to the plot. Led by a bratty twerp, Tyler (Uly Schlesinger), they throw a monkey wrench into Jerry and Marge’s work.
But why? To win money? Because they can? We never really know why Tyler and his people at Harvard work on doing this and we don’t really care. And neither did the filmmakers. I guess they felt the audience wouldn’t care about a middle-age couple who found a loophole and made well off it. In the end, they made over $26 million in their investment company from 2003-2012 before the Winfall lottery was discontinued.
This story could’ve been told without the Harvard group, especially since they didn’t exist. There’s also a subplot of a reporter, Maya (Tracie Thoms), that gets so little attention it’s not even necessary. In one scene, there’s an in-joke as her editor tells her not to make the story about the Selbees and GSIS a “fluff story.”
But I guess some Hollywood bigwig had to have some cliched tropes included because you can’t tell a different story. Still, Cranston and Bening turn in nice performances as a couple who found a way to have some fun in their retirement/autumn years. And they really didn’t do anything bad as they were using the lottery’s own loopholes against them. People look and find loopholes in many things. Look at extreme couponing. Or how about David Phillips who found a loophole in Healthy Choice pudding purchases to obtain 1.25 million frequent-flyer miles. Or how about the man in China who used a first-class ticket to eat a free meal each day for a year.
Jerry & Marge is just short enough and entertaining enough for audiences to like it.
What do you think? Please comment.