“I’ve waited forty years for it to be just us, and so far, we suck at it.”
Retirement can be a challenge for people who have been busy their whole lives. It helps if you find a hobby to fill your time. Maybe that hobby turns out to be lucrative—lucrative enough to change lives. Jerry and Marge Go Large, directed by David Frankel, is a wonderfully entertaining story of such a remarkable hobby and the way it touched lives and built a community. It’s based on a true story.
Jerry Selbee (Bryan Cranston) has just retired (not happily) from a career at Kellogg’s. He lives in a small town in Michigan that is well past its prime. He’s floundering for something to do. Jerry is a wizard with numbers. One day he discovers a loophole in the state lottery that adjust the odds so that winning is more likely. After a couple of failures to score, he determines that he needs to bet really big to get a payoff. So he recruits others in the town to trust him with their money (we’re talking thousands each) and forms a corporation. It starts working, but Michigan shuts that game down. It is still being played in Massachusetts, however.
So every few weeks, when the jackpot gets large enough to trigger the loophole, he and his wife Marge (Annette Benning) do a road trip to Massachusetts to spend the day printing the thousands of lottery tickets involved, aided by a friendly and eccentric convenience store clerk (a very entertaining Rainn Wilson). The payoff is astounding. The small town is enjoying the life of new money in town. More importantly Jerry and Marge are having a great time rebuilding their relationship in a new way.
However, soon, Tyler Evens (Uly Schlesinger), a student at Harvard, discovers the same loophole and gets money from other well-healed students in his dorm. When Tyler figures out there are two group doing this, he threatens Jerry with the idea that he would hack all his neighbors and ruin their lives. Tyler is the epitome of privilege, who wants nothing more to win at anything he’s involved in.
In some ways, this part of the story provides some dramatic tension to make it interesting, but it also opens the door for us to consider what it means to be stewards of the gifts we have.
For Tyler this is a matter of ego. The money really doesn’t mean anything to him; his family has plenty. It’s about showing off how clever he is. And he won’t tolerate anyone who threatens his plans. The money, per se, doesn’t matter to Jerry either. He’s more interested in what he and his neighbors can do with their winnings. For them, this is a chance to rebuild their dying little town. Parks are spruced up. Downtown shops, which have been boarded up for years, are bought and rented out for €1 a year. (There is a humorous reason they do it for a euro rather than a dollar.) For the Michigan people, this windfall is all about the community. To be sure, they all get to make some personal upgrades, but more than anything else they see this as making everyone’s lives better.
Stewardship of what we have is a frequent topic in scripture. For example, Peter tells us “Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” (1 Peter 4:10, NRSV). Tyler has no concept of serving others; he expects others to serve him and feed his ego. But for Jerry, Marge, and their neighbors, the gift that Jerry nurtured for them has changed their lives, not just by making them more money. It has enriched their lives as families and community. There we see “the manifold grace of God” at work.
Jerry and Marge Go Large streams on Paramount+.
Photo credit: Jake Giles Netter/Paramount++.