Title: Win Win
Director: Thomas McCarthy
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Jeffrey Tambor, Amy Ryan, Alex Shaffer, Burt Young, Bobby Cannavale, Melanie Lynskey
“Win Win” dabbles in a few genres. By doing so, the qualities of all these genres are delivered in a subtle manner. There is an ample amount of comedy and drama laced throughout; typically known as the modern-day dramedy. Add in the high school wrestling backdrop, and a nice little sport subplot is on display. In certain sequences, it may remind one of Hoosiers. Other times, it can feel like The Blind Side, with regards to the family-drama angle. Yet it cannot emulate the emotional value either of those respective stories engineered. The question is, did it need to?
Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) is a family man in living in Providence. His wife Jackie (Amy Ryan) spends her days looking after their two young daughters (Clare Foley & Penelope Kindred), while he helms his struggling law practice. When Mike isn’t scrapping by at his office in the suburbs, he spends his nights coaching high school wrestling with his pal/assistant coach Stephen Vigman (Jeffrey Tambor). Although Mike loves the sport, his team is the laughing stock of the district. So no matter what Mike is doing in his life, there’s always an obstacle. The guy needs a break in the worst way.
And he gets one. Which actually leads to another. One of his clients (Burt Young) is filthy rich but suffers from dementia. Since Mike is desperate, he finds a loophole in the legal system and becomes his clients guardian. Meaning, he is entitled to some financial benefits. While making sure no one catches onto his white-lie, he ends up meeting his client’s grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer). Kyle is a troubled kid, but Mike decides to take him under his wing, since his mother (Melanie Lynskey) is doing a stint in rehab down in Ohio. Ironically, Kyle is a fantastic wrestler and begins to come out of his shell – which is a very confident shell by the way. Everything seems to be coming together for Mike and Kyle, until the kid’s newly sober mother shows up and is ready to put the kibosh on the winning situation.
This movie feels like a strong independent effort. One who is not familiar with Giamatti’s work would probably think this was one of his early credits, if they just happened to start visually going through his resume blindly (not sure if that sentence makes sense, but it sounds clever). Simply because Giamatti is contained by the script. The role is supposed to be realistic and at times, playful. But that negates what Giamatti is phenomenal at…Displaying gripping raw emotion. While this is happening, his co-star Alex Shaffer ends up being the most intriguing character of the bunch. The audience also meets the quick hitting Terry (Bobby Cannavale) – who plays Giamatti’s best friend and is in the midst of an early mid-life crisis. He is allowed to amp up the comedy once we reach the halfway point of this 106 minute feature. In the end though, the stoic and blunt Shaffer still garners all the attention.
Grounded stories such as this always seem to have the same problem. Pacing. As already mentioned, the characters are serviceable, but lack the charisma – save for Shaffer’s “Kyle” – to keep the viewer completely engaged. Which then leads the story to hit dry spells that will have people taking the familiar audible, annoyed breath during these moments. What they want is energy. What they get is reality. This execution will not please everyone.
Overall, Win Win is a simple story that really doesn’t have a purpose. The retread-like material isn’t a complete turn-off and the decent acting gets one through. It’s a nice realistic film that has a few entertaining moments. But if you’re looking to feel something, forget about it.
By Joe Belcastro