“Jerry and Marge Go Large,” the new Paramount Plus film with Bryan Cranston and Annette Benning, is not just an amusing story of an unassuming retired couple figuring out a loophole to win the lottery, but a defense of the elderly and the value they bring to society. Moreover, the fact that they make money in an unlikely fashion isn’t the only thing to make the movie worthwhile, but that they find new life in this endeavor and share that new life with their community.
From this regard, the movie — which is based on a real story — has an interesting and relatable conflict. It begins with Jerry retiring from his job at the Kellogg cereal factory in Michigan. Along with his former colleagues and supervisors, his family bid him farewell, even though he’s not actually going anywhere.
Following this, Jerry adopts a daily routine of completing a Sudoku puzzle and drinking a cup of coffee at the local convenience store. Meanwhile, his wife Marge reveals that she misses being intimate with her husband — a detail that she tries to share with her daughter, who’d prefer not to know.
It’s not only Jerry and Marge being put out to pasture to be forgotten, but also their town, which is losing its vigor and identity. This is symbolized in the jazz festival the town stopped hosting because of the lack of funds and interest.
Normally, Jerry, Marge, and the rest of their neighbors would carry on, puttering about with their daily rituals until they die. However, Jerry finds a loophole in a local lottery that allows him to win a profit every time. He soon brings in Marge, his neighbors, and a motley crew of yokels to become shareholders in this project that allows all of them to double their investment. For a while (in the movie it seems like a few months, while in reality, it was a few years), some of the investors of Jerry’s company use their money to revive their town and bring back the jazz festival.
Vindicating the Elderly
Unfortunately, problems arise once Harvard University student Tyler also figures out the loophole and creates a rival lottery company. Cocky and privileged, Tyler seeks to push out Jerry and his band of has-beens so he can increase his earnings and assert his dominance in the social hierarchy. Even though he’s something of a flat character, his smugness and petty ageism are believable and work to advance the plot.
What’s satisfying and poignant about the story is how it vindicates people in their fading years — an endearing message that one also sees in Clint Eastwood’s recent films, “The Mule” and “Gran Torino.” In many ways, it dramatizes the argument made by Arthur Brooks in his recent book “From Strength to Strength.”
Brooks explains the advantages that come with age and how necessary they are to a happy retirement and a strong community. People past middle age may not have the raw cognitive power (fluid intelligence) they had in their 20s, but they have experience and wisdom (crystalized intelligence) that enables them to contribute to others and feel fulfilled.
Find Meaning in Relationships
By contrast, younger people who rely on their fluid intelligence often miss the bigger picture and fail to recognize what’s truly valuable. Tyler’s predictable comeuppance at the end might strike a cynical critic as cheesy and cliche, but for most people, particularly in the millennial and iGen generations, it’s a welcome lesson that real success doesn’t come from getting rich and having status, but in cultivating meaningful relationships.
So yes, “Jerry and Marge Go Large” is very much a feel-good movie intended to give warm fuzzies to its audience. The fact that it succeeds in this makes it a pretty good movie in its own right. It’s a reminder of what really matters in life, that good things can happen to good people, and that it’s perfectly fine to take heart in this.