Synopsis – Based on true story about couple Jerry and Marge Selbee, who won lottery and uses the money to revive their small town.
My Take – When told with the right tone and a right set of actors, true re-telling of scams can be often wondrous to watch. An understandably difficult point to hit, after all, scammers always sit queasily between creating sensation for their audacity and their motivational drive to receive pleasure from another person’s misfortune. But when marred with over-dramatic or over-sentimental tones, most adaptions often tend find themselves in tricky positions.
However, this film, based on Jason Fagone‘s 2018 HuffPost article of the same name which detailed how a puzzle-solving math whiz and his wife netted $27 million by gaming the Michigan Lottery system and used that winnings to revitalize their struggling town, is an instant crowd-pleaser that will more than likely leave viewers feeling good.
Directed by David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada, Marley & Me) and written by Brad Copeland (Wild Hogs, Spies in Disguise), this one is the kind of decent, inoffensive low-key, fact-based caper that overcomes some broad comedy leanings to settle into the sweet stuff in the soft center. It’s bolstered by a funny script and dependably sharp performances by Bryan Cranston and Annette Bening, who are more charismatic than ever and successfully transform its loud sentimentality into something intimate.
Yes, the results aren’t particularly very memorable, but nevertheless will keep you thoroughly engaged and entertained for 96 minutes.
The story follows Jerry Selbee (Bryan Cranston), a natural math genius, who having reached the end of his 42 year old tenure at the Kellogg’s factory near his hometown in Evart, Michigan is forced to retire. Despite being awarded the chance to spend more time with his wife, Marge Selbee (Annette Bening) and his adult children, Dawn (Anna Camp) and Doug (Jake McDorman), just the mere thought of sitting idle makes him impatient.
However, that changes when following a visit to his local accountant Steve (Larry Wilmore), Jerry ends up noticing a flaw in the Michigan Lottery system and its new Winfall game, and decides to gamble on it. As per Jerry’s calculations, if you purchase enough tickets, you’re practically guaranteed a return. And when he wins and tells Marge about it, she joins him for the sake of revitalizing the excitement in their marriage.
Soon, Jerry and Marge, with the help of a Massachusetts gas stop owner named Bill (Rainn Wilson), are upping their numbers and begin to pool together their town’s money, growing it exponentially, only hitting a snag when Tyler (Uly Schlesinger), a Harvard undergrad also figures out the loophole and decides to put the Selbees out of business.
What follows is the joy of math and the joy of newfound purpose. Though the film is under the pretense that it’s a scam comedy, director David Frankel inserts many a dry monologue and satisfying montage of Jerry counting things, it’s really an uplifting tale of an elderly married couple finding an unlikely way to live out their glory years, all the while reconnecting with their kids.
The screenplay touches without dwelling on issues like aging, commitment, and socioeconomic challenges facing middle-class seniors.
Sure, it has its faults, as without inherently cinematic subject matter, the film struggles to find a deeper resonance beneath the logistics and execution of their ruse. And also poorly attempts to set up a journalist named Maya (Tracie Thomas) as a possible threat, since she is the one writing the article about their story, but just isn’t given the proper time to go anywhere and kind of is brushed away never to be talked about again.
Nevertheless, all things considering its short running time of around the 96 minute mark fits just right as the pace is lively and the laughs are plentiful.
It also helps that the cast is terrific. Bryan Cranston is wonderful here as he always is, as is Annette Bening, who is more charming and likable than ever. If there is a reason to watch this film, it is for them alone. Their chemistry is unmatched. Larry Wilmore is amusing as the couple’s lonely friend and accountant, Rainn Wilson hits just the right note of someone who does the minimal effort necessary but still isn’t a jerk and Uly Schlesinger is pitch-perfect as the film’s villain.
In smaller roles, Jake McDorman, Anna Camp, Michael McKean, and Ann Harada are also good. On the whole, ‘Jerry and Marge Go Large’ is a charming feel-good drama further uplifted by its two wonderful lead performances.
Directed – David Frankel
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 96 minutes