Win Win Directed by: Tom McCarthy Cast: Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale, Alex Shaffer, Jeffrey Tambor Running Time: 1 hr 46 mins Rating: R Release Date: March 25, 2011 (Chicago)
PLOT: A lawyer and part-time high school wrestling coach (Giamatti) suffers from stress as he struggles to make financial ends meet. Things become even more complicated when his client's grandson, Kyle (Shaffer), shows up at his door.
WHO'S IT FOR?: If you liked The Blind Side, you'll like Win Win even more. And if that comparison doesn’t mean anything to you, knowing that this was co-written and directed by a co-writer of Up should be enough to peak your interest. Get ready to have your soul warmed.
EXPECTATIONS: McCarthy has been 2 for 2 for winning films, with his most recent The Visitor gaining him some attention from those outside of the usual indie film audience. With Giamatti on board this round, it was interesting as to how the actor would be able to handle portraying fatherhood while working within a story concept that doesn't seem too new.
Paul Giamatti as Mike Flaherty: Even when he’s trying to be an authoritarian, Giamatti’s bulging, worried eyes speak loud than her voice, making this one of his best roles of his entire career. It’s a great embodiment of a person stuck in an economic crunch, without pummeling his captivated audience with his anxiety. Packing a big belly as a visual bonus, Giamatti's depiction of Mike makes for a very believable father figure of the 21st century. Score: 8
Amy Ryan as Jackie Flaherty: She’s a very funny matriarch, but one that is true to a mother’s protectiveness. Jackie’s got a sharp tongue, but it doesn’t go overboard; we know she probably wouldn’t actually go forward with her threats, etc. Score: 7
Bobby Cannavale as Terry Delfino: The cheapest character in a cast of tangible human beings, Mike's friend Terry is the kind of comic relief you’d expect to see from a movie lesser than Win Win. However, since he's so isolated and harmless with his humor, he doesn’t drag the movie down. Instead, he raises the whole comedic appeal of the movie. Were it not for him, I doubt the people in my screening would have been laughing so much. Score: 6
Alex Shaffer as Kyle: The creative forces behind Win Win are well aware that teenagers aren’t just walking vacuums with vacant brains. They’re always thinking, despite a lack of communication. This feature helps make Shaffer’s presentation of Kyle one of the most compelling on-screen teenagers in recent years. And while he might be an odd creature lurking around the Flaherty’s house, the movie always has a warming stance with him, not allowing Kyle to become a jokey representation of a young adult. Score: 7
TALKING: Win Win’s authenticity is further supported by its dialogue, which is remarkably human. Even Giamatti’s inspirational speech of “You control it!” is legitimate. Teenagers are given the perfect amount of beats in their delivery of spare lines. The film's slightly unnecessary R-rating comes from crude language. Score: 8
SIGHTS: McCarthy presents New Jersey with a lot of visible compassion, and translates that homeliness to his audience, spreading it amongst his community of characters. As for teenagers, it’s easy to say that movies don’t give such an authentic depiction of them as successful as Win Win. The rules of high school wrestling are not explained, but it becomes easy enough to figure out the basic guidelines after watching a few matches. Score: 8
SOUNDS: Purposefully crappy loud metal music is played during moments of wrestling, which causes Jeffrey Tambor’s character to say, “this song sucks” at least once. This collection of tunes with empty angst is then mixed in with Bon Jovi’s “Have a Nice Day,” which adds some New Jersey flavor, but also seems to fit in with the other disposable loud songs. Win Win’s soundtrack is complemented with a pleasing little song by The National and Sharon Van Etten called “You Think You Can Wait.” Score: 6
BEST SCENE: If it's possible to step outside the usual singular scene selection, I choose the entire third act of Win Win as the winner of this category. And while we're at it, it's one of the best third acts I've seen so far this year.
ENDING: Win Win's conclusion is about doing the right thing for the sake of the most people possible.
QUESTIONS: Even though I'm not demanding an immediate answer, what are the rules for high school wrestling? What’s with independent movies circling moral dilemmas around $1500 dollars? (First it was Cedar Rapids, and now this.) Plus, you can read my interview with writer/director Tom McCarthy here.
REWATCHABILITY: Definitely. Win Win is the type of movie that you want to share with people, even if just to show them that “look, everything is going to be okay.” In a non-related note, I’d love to see this with my mom.
A victory as both a movie and a message, Win Win is a true crowd pleaser. Without rubbing America's face in its cruddy economic situation, it gets your soul to warm up so that we can be ready to tackle life's most important challenges.
Win Win is an indie underdog that tells its story about real people with real problems using the same spirit of Frank Capra, the director who gave America (and the world) It’s A Wonderful Life. Genuine humor is mixed beautifully with emotional moments that exhilarate the human spirit, without having to solely rely on a sports metaphor or scene at a championship event. Its moral sense is portrayed expertly, with the film having optimism for its characters, and even more wonderfully, its audience.
FINAL SCORE: 8/10