There’s a whiff of the plane movie emanating from ho-hum Paramount+ comedy Jerry and Marge Go Large, an acceptable half-awake diversion when one has run out of other, better options in the sky but something that’s a little harder to justify on the ground . This week’s bounty of major streaming premieres – a charming remake of Father of the Bride, Joseph Kosinski’s stylish if insubstantial, sci-fi thriller Spiderhead, Jennifer Lopez’s enjoyable if overly airbrushed pop star doc Halftime, Emma Thompson’s juiciest role for years in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, self-indulgent Sundance crowd-panderer Cha Cha Real Smooth, Amazon’s gay romcom My Fake Boyfriend – makes it a hugely, unusually competitive marketplace and there’s frankly no reason to pick this one above all else, a sitcom pilot masquerading as a real movie, Jerry and Marge going very small.
It’s a shame, as the article it was based on, Jason Fagone’s Huffington Post long-read, had character and heart, an investigation into a Michigan couple who found a way to play the lottery. But in the Devil Wears Prada director David Frankel’s adaptation, all idiosyncrasies have been flattened. It’s an added shame that Bryan Cranston and especially Annette Bening have been made similarly edgeless, two solid yet uninspired performances from two actors who deserve far more, playing overfamiliar types rather than real people. Cranston is, of course, Jerry, a tireless left-brain-first company man now facing the horror of retirement after working for the same factory for most of his life.
But his overactive mind won’t let him settle into a routine of fishing and watching movies with his long-serving wife Marge, and instead he finds an unexpected new hobby that quickly becomes an unlikely new job. Jerry’s knack for numbers has him figuring out a loophole in one of the many lotteries, one that has him slowly spending his limited savings on tickets and doubling his money along the way. Marge soon joins in, and there is some simple, vicarious fun to be had in these early scenes, as they concoct their plan. It involves buying out of state, partnering up with a local, and eventually persuading their friends and neighbors to get involved.
Frankel is a seasoned pro with glossy, star-driven material such as this, having also directed Sarah Jessica Parker in Miami Rhapsody, Jennifer Aniston in Marley & Me and Meryl Streep again in the deeply underrated Hope Springs. But while that latter film managed to sift through the specific, often grueling, day-to-day realities of a decades-long marriage, there’s nothing acute or unique about how Jerry and Marge’s relationship is brought to life, fault also lying with sitcom writer Brad Copeland’s broad and perfunctory screenplay.
There’s a brief hint at something more under the surface in the final act when Jerry confronts his inability to see past the structures of life to understand and appreciate the people who take part in it, but it’s too little too late and, at this stage, the film is too focused on the low-stakes farce that surrounds him. The couple end up facing off against a bratty Harvard student who also figures out the lottery’s blind spot and while it’s satisfying to rag on an entitled rich kid, the conflict is far too minor to register.
Cranston, who has struggled to find characters who have even half as much color as Walter White, mostly sleepwalks here and while it’s always good to see Bening get this much screen-time, it’s frustrating to see it squandered on something quite so bland. It’s all about as pedestrian as a day’s work at the factory. Jerry and Marge are cashing in and, ultimately, so are they.