It’s accepted wisdom that people age out of going to the movies. So stories about a demographic that’s abandoned the cinema are unfairly but justifiably rare. But the multiplex’s loss in the streaming cinema’s gain.
Case in point, the laugh-out-loud charmer “Jerry & Marge Go Large,” which pairs up AARP-eligible Annette Bening and Bryan Cranston for a folksy, funny “true story” about small town folk who figure out a way to beat the lottery.
This Paramount+ winner is a niche movie created by niche specialists David Frankel, who directed “The Devil Wears Prada,” and screenwriter Brad Copeland, who got his big break with “Wild Hogs” way back when.
Jerry is freshly-retired from the cereal plant in Evart, Michigan, a “numbers” guy whom Kellogg’s has put out to pasture. He’s all set to “help around the house” with his high school sweetheart Marge, maybe take up fishing, since his family just pitched in to buy him a bass boat.
But Marge sees trouble on the horizon. “I’ve waited 40 years for it to be ‘just us,’ and so far, we suck at it!”
One fishing fiasco and a whole lot of “just under foots” later with Marge, accountant Steve (Larry Wilmore) and everybody else in town that he’s on a first-name basis with later, Jerry stumbles across “a flaw” in one of the lottery games being pitched nationwide.
A cute running gag in Copeland’s screenplay? Everybody Jerry talks to about this, or merely gets into “numbers” with, lets their eyes glass over. That includes their kids, bank teller Mindy, and most alarmingly, their accountant, given a breezy “What, me worry?” air by Wilmore.
Jerry frets and fidgets and tests his “flaw” theory, and frets some more in a crisis of confidence after it doesn’t work out. But damned if he doesn’t figure out the flaw in his theory, and double down. It isn’t until the game is dropped in Michigan but continued in Massachusetts that Jerry finally has to fess up to Marge.
Their first road trip has them pick the perfect, sleepy remote convenience store, run by a lazy, compliant clerk (Rainn Wilson). As the game is “gamed” by large numbers of individual tickets purchased, he lets them run the purchase/printing machine on their own.
“Can you show us how it works?”
“Youuuu’ll figure it out.”
From there, it’s just a matter of time before they get friends and neighbors in their aging, dying little town involved, before they start to “do good” with the cash, that they run afoul of some privileged Harvard nerds who’ve made the same discovery and fall under the gaze of The Boston Globe, which put Catholic priests in jail, and surely won’t let this “scandal” pass unnoticed.
The laughs are strictly low-hanging fruit. The montages — of ticket buying, ticket sorting and road-tripping — set to classic rock (Springsteen, The Who), and the romance, of course, is rekindled as these two small-town folks, taking care to play by the lottery and IRS rules, milk this blunder for all that they can until their secret gets out.
Cranston makes Jerry affably nerdy, scowling at math problems, shocked to realize he’s always paid more attention to them than the wife and kids who didn’t share his mania.
Bening could play this warm, sexy retiree’s wife in her sleep, and simply refuses to do so.
The once-edgy Wilmore’s rarely cast as “cute,” which pays off. And Wilson merely has to show up to give the story blue collar credibility and make every line a laugh line.
The screenplay finds (invents) villains and makes the most of them in the most predictable way. Giving smartass rich kid Tyler (Uly Schlesinger) lot’s of “Look at you two, just like ‘Up'” and “Benjamin Button” and “back on the farm/drive the tractor to the store” lines is a no brainer, but it pays off.
Movies like “Jerry & Marge” can easily be faulted for not trying terribly hard, but that can be the ugly duckling beauty in them. This one doesn’t show strain because it doesn’t have to. The charm and the humor are obvious, our investment in their plight easy and the bad guys perfectly hissable.
Like its protagonists, here’s a movie that isn’t aiming for The Jackpot. They’re just reaching for a pleasant, humorous return on investment, and damned if they don’t get it.
Rating: PG-13 for some language and suggestive references
Cast: Bryan Cranston, Annette Bening, Larry Wilmore and Rainn Wilson
Credits: Directed by David Frankel, scripted by Brad Copeland, based on an article by A Paramount+ release.
Running time: 1:36