Small character work pays off in Jerry & Marge Go Large

(left to right) Annette Bening and Bryan Cranston in Jerry & Marge Go Large.

(left to right) Annette Bening and Bryan Cranston in Jerry and Marge go big.
Photo: Paramount+

Premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival ahead of its Paramount+ arc, Jerry and Marge go big is based on the true story of a retired couple who legally exploit a mathematical loophole in the state lottery to win millions of dollars for themselves, their friends and their neighbors. In telling this story, director David Frankel delivers a light-hearted, crowd-pleasing comedy that briefly flirts with notions of more substantial allegorical engagement before settling for a laid-back domestic groove, connecting most roundly by way of performance. winners of Bryan Cranston and Annette Bening.

The pair star as Jerry and Marge Selbee, empty-nest high school sweethearts who raised their son Ben (Jake McDorman) and daughter Dawn (Anna Camp) in Evart, Michigan, a one-stop-light town with a population of less than 2,000 inhabitants. . When Jerry is pushed into retirement, he finds himself restless, his penchant for mental commitment tested.

One day, he spots a pamphlet for the Winfall lottery, reads the fine print, and notices a loophole. When the jackpot reaches a certain amount without a big six-figure winner, it triggers a “roll down”, with the money accumulated which is then divided among the winners of the lower level prizes. This changes the odds and tilts them in favor of the players, just a little, but more dramatically for those who have purchased tickets in the appropriate amount.

Jerry tests his theory, refines it, then reveals the secret to his wife. He expects her to preach restraint, but Marge enthusiastically embraces the idea of ​​gambling their life savings. They quickly double their modest checking account balance and soon establish an incorporated investment company to pool the money of fellow Evart citizens, selling shares at $500 apiece.

After the Winfall game ends in their state, Jerry and Marge commit to running regular marathons in Massachusetts, where they spend up to 12 hours a day printing tickets. It’s finally then that someone else cracks this code – a group of Harvard students, led by Tyler (Uly Schlesinger, lacking the toolkit developed to flesh out his character beyond an avatar of privileges and smarmy rights). This presents Jerry and Marge with not just competition, but an active threat.

Frankel (The devil wears Prada, marley and me) is a capable director with plenty of experience in helping to locate and bring to light hidden reservoirs of genuine feelings in sometimes thin non-fiction sources. Jerry and Marge go bighowever, yields to a framing that seems a little reductive, even if it is largely in the wheelhouse of its helmsman.

The film takes the form of an article by investigative journalist Jason Fagone, whose work has often dosed the colorful outlines of other Americana curiosities (competitive feeding, contest to create a 100 mpg vehicle). As hammered into screenplay form by Brad Copeland (Development stopped, wild pigs), however, the material here leans a little too much into the stereotypical antagonism of educated but mean young elites against decent “life-smart” people.

This focus comes at the expense of the stories of the friends Jerry and Marge help and the town they revitalize. While there are some personal indulgences, most of Evart’s earnings windfall is being sent back downtown – a reopened ice cream shop, a rebuilt public rotunda that could host a reconstituted JazzFest which, fingers crossed , might be appropriate enough to one day lure Steely Dan in for a guest appearance.

To the film’s credit, these modest dreams aren’t played for empty jokes. But no more Jerry and Marge go big give them quite a full and equal spotlight. Instead, the time is increasingly given over to the Harvard group’s attempts to beef up the Evart group, as well as a boston globe journalist, Miya Jordan (Tracie Thoms), investigating not only the weird patterns of the players, but also the revelation that the bureaucrats are okay with the loophole because it funnels additional profits to the state.

With a little narrative massage, it’s easy to imagine a different version of Jerry and Marge go big which might capture the interest of Alexander Payne or a like-minded filmmaker – a somewhat more ambitious film that uses the exploits of its namesake characters and their creation of a sort of Everyman hedge fund, to offer a more broad on what we choose to value and center of modern America. It’s not quite that movie. It is certainly not the greatest sin. It just means Jerry and Marge go big lands as entertaining entertainment – an underdog tale more in the vein of bowling rather than something that lingers longer, and stands as a portrait of its time.

That said, overemphasizing flaws of omission rather than commission risks undermining the film’s considerable pleasures. Aided by a lively score by Jake Monaco that appropriately connects the needle between sentimentality and playfulness, Frankel delivers a well-crafted, energetically paced and consistently engaging film.

Years after the conclusion of breaking Bad, it might seem silly to spend a lot of time praising Cranston, who has the ability to credibly convey awkwardness, menace, and everything in between. His talent now seems self-evident. But it’s worth emphasizing that he’s the definition of an actor who understands the mission, a performer who uses both his innate intelligence and work ethic to bring added meaning and emotion to scenes. Here he once again locates a physical vocabulary that communicates the depth and complexity of Jerry’s inner feelings, including the regret and sadness that may still exist as part of something many would recognize as class success. mean.

Jerry and Marge go big | Official trailer | Paramount+

Towards the end of the film, there is a short monologue, beautifully delivered by Cranston, which further reveals Jerry’s sense of quiet dislocation, even from his family. He talks about the moment he realized that his natural talent with numbers was not a gift, but rather a trick. “Your brain tells you that you see what other people don’t, but in the end, you just see less,” he told his wife.

It’s a well-crafted and illuminating moment of self-realization that’s heartbreaking and sweet all at the same time. The most of Jerry and Marge go bigThe shading of, however, lies in simple and straightforward character interaction. And it’s here that all of Cranston and Bening’s clever little choices (an averted gaze here, a deviated line reading there, her body posture, her wide eyes) deliver multiplied audience engagement. These veteran artists make these two characters likable and, more importantly, perfectly knowable, and through them Jerry and Marge go big breathe fully.

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