Do not be fooled, Jerry & Marge are growing up is no Barb and Star go to Vista Del Mar. The title seems to promise a raucous caper, but unless you’re tickled by endless footage of Bryan Cranston and Annette Bening chuckling to themselves while exchanging the kind of winking, adoring looks reserved for couples turning 46 years married should be forbidden, the amusement is terribly thinly spread. David Frankel rolls on his The devil Wears Prada rep, between TV appearances and unwatchable features (Accompanying beauty, everyone?). But this utterly toothless, glorified Hallmark film for Paramount+ proves that the director is only as good as his material.
Brad Copeland’s Pedestrian script was inspired by a 2018 film HuffPost Article by Jason Fagone describing how Jerry Selbee, a retired Kellogg’s Michigan factory worker with a gift for statistical calculations, found a loophole in a state lottery that served him, his wife Marge, and the bettors’ friends and family association formed to generate $27 million in profits over nine years. Without breaking the law.
Jerry & Marge are growing up
The final result
Actually, they are small and flat.
It’s undoubtedly a fascinating story, with a human angle of interest enhanced here as do-gooders Jerry and Marge distribute the wealth to the residents and business owners of a small working-class town on economic subsistence. But the film is stubbornly uncineastic and surprisingly little at stake. Tiresomely sweet too, with the utterly over-qualified Cranston and Bening in the title roles tapping into folksy oldsterisms to a startling degree.
Copeland spells out every thematic undercurrent, particularly the way Jerry’s fixation with numbers has made him not so good at making connections with people, even his own children. But the lottery program is finally allowing him to use his gift to connect with people.
The lard is applied with a trowel to represent his relationship with the feisty and efficient Marge, who admires her husband’s brains but has been craving for a little more romance lately. Or maybe not recently, considering they’re skipping prom to get married in high school. When a script so meticulously spells it out, it’s not hard to guess that they’ll be moonlight dancing and fainting like teenagers before we’re done.
David Cronenberg said in a recent interview, “You don’t make a movie about nice people who are all nice to each other. That would be so boring.” Of course there are exceptions, but movies like Jerry & Marge are growing up confirm this point. Everyone in this hackneyed version of Evart, Michigan is just so damn nice, from Jerry’s widowed accountant Steve (Larry Wilmore) to quirky neighbor couple Howard (Michael McKean) and Shirley (Ann Harada), they’re boring as dishwater. The same goes for Jerry and Marge’s adult offspring, Dawn (Anna Camp) and Doug (Jake McDorman). His complaint that his father never threw a football with him is almost apologetic.
Conflict arises when another lottery community aggressively tries to edge out the competition, led by smug Harvard senior Tyler (Uly Schlesinger). With his decrepit quips and elitist assumptions about the Selbees as easy prey, he’s an asshole so irrevocably soulless he exists primarily to be finished off by Jerry with The Big Speech. Mean people may succeed, but they will end up alone and unhappy in this pink world. (For the record, the real students who entered the lottery were from MIT)
A more imaginative script might have introduced some excitement about the Boston globe Reporter (Tracie Thoms) snoops on the story. But given that state lottery management is completely relaxed about savvy people buying large numbers of tickets in the “roll-down” weeks between jackpots and then scoring multiple low-to-mid wins, the risk of exposure is high not given at all raise the temperature. Unless you live in the most culturally deprived areas, it’s hard to imagine anyone getting too upset about whether the good folks at Evart can revive their beloved jazz festival.
A unique feature of this particular lottery system is that it requires many hours of human labor, printing out thousands of tickets and then manually checking them for days. But nothing Frankel or Copeland do can make the sight of Jerry and Marge in their Walmart closets poking around at lottery machines in a Massachusetts supermarket (after the Michigan lottery abruptly shut down) interesting.
As a cashier at one of these places, Rainn Wilson contributes some affable stoner humor, but most of the time he’s on duty to provide a good narration during Jerry and Marge’s long car rides, who, like everything else, are trying too hard to charm deliver. The road trips are also accompanied by random vintage needle drops – The Spencer Davis Group, Springsteen, The Kinks, The Who. At least these are preferable to the juicy score of Jake Monaco.
The film looks sharp enough, but is surprisingly unremarkable in that regard, considering it was directed by gifted French DP Maryse Alberti, whose name is just another entry in a mysterious list of talents to come from this personality-free material be attracted. I was so bored that I started freely associating the title with Large Marge – the phantom truck driver Pee-wee’s Big Adventure — and wish I saw her origin story instead.