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Is Jerry & Marge Go Large just too true to life?

Our writer Mariano Garcia questions whether David Frankel's film from last year goes one too step too far in its representation of "reality", and ultimately suffers from being too true-to-life

Feel-good films that are based on true stories don’t always do much to try to provoke thought in their audiences, but if there are two actors who would seemingly attach themselves to such a project, it’d be Bryan Cranston and Annette Bening. So, at the very least, Jerry & Marge Go Large (David Frankel2022) was an interesting prospect when it was released to one of the many streaming platforms.

Throw into this that technically a film about winning the lottery, but not so much in your usual way – which we’ll get into. This premise has given rise to some decent flicks, like Waking Ned (Kirk Jones, 1998), If I Had a Million (various directors, 1932), and 29th Street (George Gallo, 1991).

Jerry & Marge Go Large is different from most sudden-win movies, and while it has potential on the big screen, somewhat ironically, sticking to the source material seems to hinder the dramatization of the story.

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The story behind the film

Everyone fantasizes about winning the lottery, putting in their lucky numbers, and crossing their fingers. In 2003, Jerry Selbee took a different approach. After running the numbers on an old Michigan lottery game by the name of Winfall, he worked out that the odds could swing in favour of the player rather than the house.

So, he and his wife went about buying up tickets and making it a profitable venture before settling with millions and calling it a day. There were unique mechanics in play that have been mostly phased out today, partially due to people like Selbee exploiting them. Most people today buy jackpot tickets with six or seven numbers and will check the winning lottery numbers online to see if they’re a winner.

Winfall had a progressive jackpot that hit a ceiling of $5 million but increased the lower ball match winnings once that top mark was hit. In this way, because the winning on matching four or five balls rather than the full six increased, after a certain mark of jackpot progression beyond its ceiling, it could become mathematically more favourable to ticket holders.

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Too true to real life?

The story is one of triumph over the house, but not one of a down-on-their-luck player getting their big break at the perfect time with a hefty jackpot. Instead, Selbee and his wife accumulated hundreds of wins via their method. It was all perfectly by the books, the couple were sensible, even employed family members, and called it quits. It opens with Jerry being disillusioned with his job and impending retirement. His revelation could have been played in a way to say that the long slog of work and its eventual conclusion doesn’t mean a stretch of inactivity, boredom, or uselessness.

Rather, it develops into much more of a happy-go-lucky, chirpy showing of two people enjoying their retirement and banking on their intelligence to beat the system. There’s nothing wrong with this, but the story also doesn’t venture into any points of tension or stakes as it all goes well, like with the real-life story.

In real life, this is great: two smart, nice people find a way to game the system, make it big, enjoy their lives, and are sensible with the activity and money. In a dramatisation, you want a deeper exploration of the human condition.

While so many films and shows now can be accused of ruining the source material, Jerry & Marge Go Large admirably sticks to the story in a feel-good way, but this ultimately limits its potential as a thought-provoking film.


By Mariano Garcia - 18-05-2023

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