Playing the odds
A loophole in the lottery allows a retired couple to win … over and over again
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What would you do, if you knew you couldn’t lose at the lottery? That’s the premise of Jerry and Marge Go Large currently streaming on Paramount+. The movie is based on the true story of Jerry and Marge Selbee—a retired couple from central Michigan who 20 years ago found a way to use the lottery to help their struggling small town.
As the story begins, Jerry (Bryan Cranston) has recently been forced into retirement after spending decades working at a local factory. His wife Marge (Annette Bening) looks forward to their golden years together, but Jerry feels adrift.
While mulling over his lack of purpose, Jerry picks up an advertisement about the state’s new lottery game. Jerry has always had a head for numbers, and after doing some quick calculations, he discovers a flaw.
Once the jackpot builds up to a certain amount, tickets with three or four matching numbers out of six have higher than normal payouts. Jerry realizes if someone buys enough tickets on the right weeks, they’ll always win more money than they spend.
Jerry’s not a gambler. He’s a conservative guy who doesn’t like taking risks. But he’s also someone who believes math doesn’t lie. Once Marge finds out about the scheme, she’s excited. She’s not excited about the money. She’s excited Jerry’s found a use for his talents. And she’s excited the two of them can work on Jerry’s project together. They’re not playing the lottery. They’re working the lottery.
The couple don’t keep their system for winning a secret. They tell their entire small town, forming a lottery-ticket-buying corporation letting everyone buy shares. The corporation benefits its investors and revitalizes the community.
Jerry and Marge Go Large is a sweet little movie about family and friends sticking together, and it’s more interesting because it’s based on a true story. The leads have wonderful chemistry, bringing a tenderness to Jerry and Marge’s autumnal romance.
This isn’t a movie about scamming the lottery—the heroes never do anything illegal. It’s a movie about two people who love each other, love their family, and love their community. And the movie doesn’t promote gambling. Jerry and Marge work hard, and just like the real-life Selbees, when the loophole closes, they stop buying tickets.
It’s a shame the movie is rated PG-13 for suggestiveness and language. There’s some talk about conjugal relations, and there are a few instances of bad language, mostly uttered by snotty college kids who are also exploiting the system. But ultimately, Jerry and Marge Go Large is an enjoyable film about the importance of family, community, and math literacy.
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