Jerry and Marge Go Large is a genial story of a recently laid off older man who manages to crack the formula for regularly winning a lottery game. He uses his discovery to win millions of dollars which is largely deployed to help revitalize his community. It’s a bit of groaner of a plot description, but I must admit my excitement for the film as it stars two of my favorite actors, the ever wonderful Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) and Annette Bening (20th Century Women) alongside an array of quality supporting players including Anna Camp (Pitch Perfect), Rainn Wilson (The Office), and Michael McKean (Better Call Saul).
The film is directed by David Frankel, a man defined by an all over the place resume. He’s made one populist classic, The Devil Wears Prada, and one beloved emotional torture device, Marley and Me. He’s also made a few truly ghastly films like the Will Smith misfire Collateral Beauty. What Frankel isn’t, unfortunately, is transgressive in any way. He’s a safe, journeyman filmmaker who appears to aim for inoffensive populist filmmaking.
So it’s pleasant to see Cranston as a neurodivergent secret math wiz whose brilliant schemes unlock a new wave of passion with his wife. It’s an easy gear for Cranston to play as a dad who and husband who tries hard but simply can’t always get it right. Cranston and Bening have a pleasant friend-chemistry together, though it’s hard to imagine this as a pairing that ever felt much sexual desire for one another. The supporting cast, perhaps Larry Wilmore more than anyone else, does the best they can with the material. The problem remains that the film is so light it seems to disappear from the mind even before the credits roll.
The movie also exists in the boringly retro lane of being ostensibly apolitical but having all the “tells” of a movie that exists in the sort of “reality” that was only ever real in 50s movies. It is the blandest sort of depiction of how Red State folks like to imagine the “real” America. Of course, there’s a rival team of Harvard nerds who also crack the lottery’s formula and threaten to tank Jerry and Marge’s good system. Of course, Jerry and Marge’s town uses the magical influx of wealth to altruistically build up music festivals and revitalization projects. Of course, it’s a meddling journalist that tears the whole thing down. Of course, Cranston plays a white man whose secret genius was wasted by the big corporate interests that kicked him to the curb despite his obvious talents.
Now I’m not saying every movie needs to be a misery grind through the fractured political psyche of America, but it’s hard to take movies so willfully blind to it any more seriously than I’d take a Hallmark Christmas movie. And, look, I think some people will actually quite like this movie, at least the sort of people who view movies as something to throw on in the background while they make dinner or futz around on a cellphone. It is airy and disposable, pleasant and utterly inconsequential. It’s become rare enough to get films released made with casts of this caliber aimed at adults so I can’t help but feel disappointed when one aspires for so little as Jerry and Marge Go Large.
Jerry and Marge Go Large premiered on June 15 at 2022 Tribeca Film Festival and will be released on June 17 on Paramount+.