Jerry & Marge Go Large Review: Bryan Cranston And Annette Bening Break The Lottery In A Goofy True-Story Scam [Tribeca]

The scammer is having a moment right now in Hollywood. We've seen everything from Tinder swindlers, to wannabe socialites, to would-be entrepreneurs — and in each instance, the scammer gets what's coming to them while the audience can briefly entertain the thought of being them before condemning them. Scammers always sit queasily in between sensation and schadenfreude: we admire them for their audacity, and maybe live vicariously through their bucking of social norms, but we also hold them in contempt for exploiting other people.

But what if there was a victimless scam? What if instead of a movie (or more commonly, a miniseries) that is uncertain whether to glorify or castigate its subject, we have a charmingly bland movie that casts its true-story scam as an inspirational feel-good flick? That's where "Jerry & Marge Go Large" comes in.

Yes, the scammer story seems to have reached the next phase in its evolution: the inspirational comedy. Bryan Cranston and Annette Bening star in an "inspired by a true story" comedy that has been shaved of whatever edges it might have originally had to deliver to us the platonic scammer movie for the streaming age.

A movie in which our scammers, in this case a retiree couple who find a loophole in their state lottery and exploit it for millions, are the scrappy underdogs in a David and Goliath story who only want to use their winnings to resuscitate their sleepy little town. And even the big threats they go up against — the intimidating state lottery people, a snotnosed Harvard student who discovers the same loophole — are little more than a vague obstacle who, if you ask nicely enough or give them enough of a stern salt-of-the-earth lecture, will stand aside (or at least learn the error of their ways). And at the end of the day, a lesson is learned ... something about being human, or appreciating life.

Cashing In

Jerry Selbee (Cranston) is retiring after more than five decades at the same Kellogg's factory job. His section is being dissolved and he's being sent off with the praise and plaudits of his superiors, and just enough retirement income to get by. But he's restless, immediately looking for ways to keep occupied, and unhappy with the fishing boat that his family has gifted him as the solution. That's when he stumbles upon the "Winfall" lottery, a special state lottery promotion that gives the player better odds to win. Normally this would never interest Jerry, who is so wary of gambling that he won't even let his accountant (Larry Wilmore) invest his retirement savings in the stock market. But Jerry, you see, is a math genius. And Winfall is no gamble — it's a sure deal to win millions of dollars based on a loophole in the system: the more you bet, the more you win.

Jerry starts off small at first, withdrawing a few thousand out of his bank account and making more back than even he anticipated. But his wife Marge (Bening) soon catches on, and rather than scold him for his questionably legal activities, she — eager to spend more time together with her husband in their "golden years" — wants in. Things escalate from there, and soon, the two of them have started a whole business enterprise that they loop a local drug store clerk (Rainn Wilson, sleazing it up) who mans the machine that prints their tickets into, along with their entire Michigan town. All this with the hopes of rejuvenating their town's failed Jazz Festival (yes, hilariously, the endgame of this plot is a jazz festival). Hot on their heels is the aforementioned snotnosed Harvard student (Uly Schlesinger, really doubling down his "rich brat" direction) who gathers an army of students to game the lottery system, and a journalist who uncovers their unusually big winnings.

But whatever whispers of conflict don't matter as long as Jerry and Marge have each other. Though "Jerry & Marge Go Large" is under the pretense that it's a scam comedy — director David Frankel ("Inventing Anna," "The Devil Wears Prada") inserts many a dry monologue and satisfying montage of Bryan Cranston counting things — it's really a movie about a couple reconnecting with each other and with their kids through the power of the lottery. It's very silly, yes, but the movie at least seems to sincerely believe in this. Cranston and Bening are game, leaning into their comedic strengths — with Bening just a tad more wild and loose next to Cranston's buttoned-up turn — delivering the movie's Hallmark movie platitudes with gumption. It's in the movie's overly glossy production and very predictable plot twists that "Jerry & Marge Go Large" starts to lose itself.

The film is never quite able to overcome the innately bizarre choice of framing a scam as an inspirational feel-good story. It feels odd throughout, and it feels odd at the end, when the whole town gathers to show how much they care about Jerry and Marge by playing the lottery one last time — and getting Tori Kelly to perform at their Jazz Festival. It's truly strange stuff, more so than the sensationalist headlines from which "Jerry & Marge" draws its inspiration.

/Film Rating: 6 out of 10

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