Before 2019, movies and shows featuring people north of 60 used to seem “boring” and “uninteresting.” That said, there has been a change in that mindset over the course of the last few years, and not only have I started to enjoy stories with and about the elderly, but I have also started to enjoy watching them dunk on the younglings. Some of the examples that come to mind are “Ikiru,” “The Bucket List,” “Piku,” “Don’t Breathe,” “Old Man and the Gun,” “Night Sky,” and “The Pez Outlaw.” There’s just something about a person, almost at the very end of their road, realizing that they haven’t done enough in their life or for their loved ones, and going on an absolute bender to rectify that. And although the list, as mentioned earlier, is small, “Jerry And Marge Go Large” has shot to the top by doing exactly that.
Directed by David Frankel and written by Brad Copeland, “Jerry And Marge Go Large” is based on the Huffington Post article of the same name that was written by Jason Fagone. The movie opens in a small town in Michigan with Jerry (Bryan Cranston) being forced into retirement because his line at the local Kellogg’s factory has been shut down. He lives with his wife, Marge (Annette Bening). He has a son, Ben (Jake McDorman), who is married to Heather (Ana Cruz Kayne), and their daughter is Liz (Devyn McDowell). He has a daughter, Dawn (Anna Camp). The family’s best friends are Howard (Michael McKean), Shirley (Ann Harada), and accountant Steve (Larry Wilmore). And although all of them are encouraging about Jerry’s “golden years,” Jerry isn’t happy with it. So, out of this rejection of becoming old, Jerry births the idea of using his love for math to exploit a loophole in the lottery system. One game of lottery in particular: Winfall.
Bryan Cranston and Annette Bening are the star attractions of “Jerry And Marge Go Large,” and they are absolutely delightful. The chemistry between the two of them is so fantastic that you will just want to hug them and tell them they are your grandparents now. There’s no need to rely on heavy exposition to explain how long they’ve been together. They reminisce about how they fell in love, how safely they have spent their life together, and how they should subvert all that to live a little for themselves. But those conversations feel so organic due to Copeland’s writing, Frankel’s directions, and Cranston and Bening’s performances because they serve the progression of the character and the plot. The duo exude so much charm, warmth, and humor that when they experience sadness or surprise, you feel it in your heart too. When Marge and Jerry talk about his fishing trip with Ben or when they arrive at the Jazz Fest, I was surprisingly moved.
The rest of the cast is great too. Rainn Wilson as Bill, the owner of a liquor store from where Jerry and Marge get their lottery tickets, is effortlessly funny. The rate at which he goes from not being invested in Jerry and Marge’s work to acting like their third child is hilarious. Larry Wilmore is equally effortless in terms of his rapport with Cranston and Bening. His support and concern for the elderly couple seems genuine. And the bit between him and Bening, where Bening keeps citing catchphrases, made me chuckle a lot. McKean, Dorman, Camp, Harada, Lindsay Rootare, Devyn McDowell, Subhash Mandal, and everyone in Jerry and Marge’s town are so pleasant. Which makes the devil’s spawn, that is Tyler, played a little too excellently by Uly Schlesinger, so worthy of your hate. Everything from his tone to his gestures and his greasy demeanor is synonymous with evil. That’s why I think Jerry lets him off easily. It’s a family film, afterall. He can’t completely go Heisenberg on him now, can he?
Speaking of Heinsenberg, yes, you can call this “Breaking Bad” Lite because you have Bryan Cranston playing a character using a unique skill he possesses to earn hoards of money while eliminating his competitors in the process. But what turns this into a feel-good story (the exclusion of drugs and violence aside) is the growth that Jerry undergoes and the catalysts that trigger it. The progression goes something like this. Jerry loves math. But that love for the subject has made him socially awkward and emotionally distant from his family. He rekindles his love for math with the lottery business. However, he forgets to include his family and society in it. Marge and Ben (and, in a way, Tyler) motivate him to find a middle ground between math, the lottery, the community, and family. And it’s this evolution of the couple and the way this diverse community becomes involved that makes “Jerry and Marge Go Large” such a heart-warming viewing experience.
From a technical point of view, “Jerry and Marge Go Large” is okay. There’s a lot of attention to detail given to the locations where they go (which seem fairly accurate when you compare them with the photos in the Huffpost article), the unimaginable number of tickets, and the costume designs. So big-ups to production designer Russell Barnes, art director Julian Scalia and costume designer Mary Claire Hannan for that. There’s a very entertaining montage, filled with cross-dissolve editing (it’s edited by Andrew Marcus), of Jerry and Marge going all-in on their adventure. And that’s pretty much where the movie peaks in terms of creativity. The cinematography by Maryse Alberti is very safe and flat. It’s color graded properly, and if that’s enough for you, then you won’t be irked by the look of the film. There are some egregiously bad VFX moments during the driving scenes where the angle of the car doesn’t match with the CGI exterior. But, hey, the movie has heart. So, that is forgivable.
“Jerry And Marge Go Large” announced its arrival with a spunky trailer that showed Bryan Cranston and Annette Bening in all their glory. But something about Paramount releasing it on digital instead of giving it a proper theatrical release worried me. Thankfully, Frankel quelled those fears and delivered a breezy, enjoyable movie and then some. If you read the article on the actual Jerry and Marge, you’ll notice that it sticks very close to the original story. That is something you don’t see in adaptations of true incidents, as filmmakers tend to mess with them for dramatic effect. However, it’s clear that Cranston, Bening, Frankel, Copeland, and the rest of the movie’s cast and crew understood that the source material was entertaining enough and allowed it to shine its magic on us. So, if you are looking to have a fun time and intend to watch two boomers (metaphorically) beat the hell out of an over-smart zoomer, please watch “Jerry and Marge Go Large.”