Jerry & Marge Go Large is carried by two strong lead performances that elevate what would otherwise result in yet another bland feel-good drama.
As human beings, we sometimes get our heads lost in our professions to such a point where we forget to continue forming connections with other people, or our loved ones. But what happens when that one job is no longer an obstacle and we’re left hanging having to figure out who we are to ourselves and to others? That’s what Jerry & Marge Go Large seeks to explore. David Frankel, director of The Devil Wears Prada and Marley & Me, is behind the camera here, and going into the Tribeca Film Festival with what I could imagine was his latest attempt to deliver an exquisite feel-good drama. It is always great to see Bryan Cranston (Your Honor) in any role as well as Annette Bening (Death on the Nile), so it was no shocker that the film made it into my personal most anticipated movies from the festival. Does it deliver, though?
Cranston plays Jerry Selbee, whose life is turned upside down after being forced to retire from his decades-long job at the local factory, where he maintained a stable and satisfying routine, leaving him feeling purposeless and lost. He keeps avoiding exploring new hobbies despite being encouraged by his supportive wife Marge (Bening), and his now adult children. That changes, though, when a legal loophole in the lottery system catches his attention and love for statistics. Realizing there is more than enough money to be won, Jerry clues his local friends into the secret in an attempt to help revive the town and its citizens from economic disaster. Things get tricky when a brilliant, but smarmy Ivy Leaguer trips upon the same systemic mistake and makes a play for Jerry and Marge’s game.
First things first, I have to praise Bryan Cranston and especially Annette Bening for signing up to spark so much life and energy to an otherwise bland script. If there is a reason to watch this film, it is for them alone. Their chemistry is unmatched. They make math sound incredibly interesting and at certain points in the story Cranton’s line-delivery genuinely has the audience at the edge of their seat. His on screen relationship with Marge is why you care about any of this. Jerry isn’t just playing the lottery solely because he’s bored being back home after retiring, or for greed, he is doing so in an effort to reconnect with his wife and town friends. That makes for an easy protagonist to root for from the start. And what can I say about Bening? She is not only Jerry’s light in his life, but she is the light that brings the movie to life. Her excitement is contagious and anytime she’s given cheesy monologues she makes them work and injects her own sense of humor into her quite generic dialogue. Whenever the script does a disservice to their talents, they seemingly elevate the work.
Other than trying to send a message about the importance of having a purpose in life and why having emotional human connections matters, Jerry & Marge Go Large is significantly boring for half of its runtime. I believe the reason for this is its lack of urgency or threat. Not for a second do you feel like there is anything on the line for Jerry and Marge. Sure, they are betting most of their savings and those of their friends in a risky gamble, but the film proves Jerry to be so good at his job that any sense of stakes is gone. David Frankel tries to spark conflict by introducing the character of Tyler (Uly Schlesinger, Generation), a Harvard student playing the same game as Jerry and Marge. The problem with this is that for an antagonist Tyler doesn’t feel like a threat. Even Marge disregards him as another “dumb teenager” and she is right. Tyler is a spoiled, selfish little brat and there is nothing interesting about him. It doesn’t seem to be the actor’s fault here, though, it’s just the script not giving him much depth. Any threat he poses is almost immediately pushed to the side and we are left with nothing in terms of tension for the remainder of the film.
Jerry & Marge Go Large also attempts to set up the journalist Maya (Tracie Thomas, Love, Victor) as a possible threat, since she is the one writing the article about their story, but it just isn’t given the proper time to go anywhere and when it finally has a role to play in the film’s final moments, it kind of is brushed away never to be talked about again. In the end, Jerry & Marge Go Large is shot pretty competently and it is not by any means a disaster of a film. As I close my run reviewing projects from the Tribeca Film Festival, it’s quite a disappointment to go out with an underwhelming movie. Sure, it’s quite charming and entertaining with two wonderful lead performances, at least half of the time, but this just isn’t enough to get you fully invested, or for it to make for a memorable viewing experience.
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