Win Win Directed by: Thomas McCarthy Cast: Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale, Alex Shaffer Running Time: 1 hr 46 mins Rating: R Release Date: April 1, 2011
PLOT: A lawyer and wrestling coach (Giamatti) is struggling with money. While trying to support his family, he makes a questionable business decision and suddenly there is a troubled highschooler (Shaffer) on his doorstep.
WHO'S IT FOR? It's a realistic look at a loving, struggling family unit that includes friends and new arrivals. There are laughs and love. For some reason I kept feeling a Juno vibe even though the dialogue and comedic tones are definitely different.
EXPECTATIONS: I didn't know much. Wrestling, Giamatti and Ryan is really all I knew. Ryan always impresses me and I thought Giamatti was really good in Barney's Version. Yes, I'm one of the 20 people who actually saw that film.
Paul Giamatti as Mike Flaherty: Giamatti has something to whine about! Normally, he'll play a character who finds something to complain about (with great affect). But here, he's Mike. Mike is proud and struggling. When he yells, he apologizes. The panic attacks, the one cigarette (then throwing away the rest of the pack) always makes me feel more for this character than others in Giamatti's past. He takes on charity cases, but really he's a charity case. Score: 9
Amy Ryan as Jackie Flaherty: Fiesty love. It almost almost makes sense why Mike would want to get their financial troubles a secret. One, you don't want to get on her bad side, she might punch you. And two, being loved by a woman like that has to be a great feeling. At first, it looked like we weren't going to get much out of Jackie. She seemed to just be a side character that would disappear for long stretches. Thankfully, that's not the case. Score: 8
Bobby Cannavale as Terry Delfino: Terry has his own issues, but that doesn't stop him from listening to his friend Mike and most importantly, joining in on the fun. Terry is depressed AND full of joy. It's a great job by Cannavale in capturing this. He's a good friend who doesn't give crazy advice. We first meet Terry when he's on a run with Mike. It seemed he would just be a joke of a character. Absolutely not. Plus, Win Win separates itself from other "I've got a secret" movies because Mike is able to talk with Terry about his deception. Score: 8
Alex Shaffer as Kyle: Wow. He sucks you in. You're desperate to get him to smile. You want him to be happy and be cared for, yet he also has a rage you're sincerely worried about. This is just a great performance by Shaffer. It appears this is his first role. I have no idea if this was just that lucky moment where Shaffer really is like Kyle in real life. If not, we might be looking at the very beginning of a career of another really good young actor. Score: 10
Rest of Cast: Burt Young is not dead! Plus, he's actually really good in this flick. Leo (Young) is slightly suffering from dementia and while at one point it seems he's just an excuse for the story to move along, the more we get of Leo, the more I liked him. Jeffrey Tambor strikes me as a comedic genius. His perfect timing is on display as the assistant wrestling coach Stephen Vigman, who is threatened by Terry. Stemler (David W. Thompson) is a skinny wrestling kid who made me laugh every time he was on screen. Score: 9
TALKING: Most of the laughs come from deadpan delivery. Everyone gets their moment to shine in this wonderful script. Even Mike and Jackie's little kids are given moments, like when they finally play Croquet. Score: 9
SIGHTS: New Jersey! Funny, just putting an exclamation point after New Jersey suddenly feels like I'm ripping on it, doesn't it? Most importantly, the wrestling feels absolutely, positively real. Win Win takes its time to get it right. So many other films with sports mess this up and then it's hard to root for the rest of the film. Score: 8
SOUNDS: There's a JBJ reference. Oh sorry, Jon Bon Jovi. Plus, the presence of The National has helped this soundtrack. Score: 8
BEST SCENE: Watching Terry and Vig (Steve Vigman) bicker with Alex about getting ready to wrestle is a joy to watch. It's simple, perfect comedic timing and captures what it is like for men to be excited about something that doesn't truly matter (in this case, wrestling).
ENDING: Sigh. OK, I admit I was a little worried. While I was hoping Mike would have to get back in that court room, it ultimately does work out.
QUESTIONS: I interviewed the cast and director at SXSW. I'll post that interview when I return from Africa.
REWATCHABILITY: Yes, I am really curious what I can notice the second time with this film. Plus, I'm convinced the comedy will hold up for another viewing.
Sometimes the hardest thing to capture on the big screen is what we think should be the easiest ... authentic life. Win Win nails it. The relationship between Mike and Jackie is one of the more realistic, loving friendship/partnership/marriages I've seen in recent memory. Watching Mike and Terry find passion in wrestling is addictive whether you care about the sport or not. And Shaffer. My goodness. This kid is a force. He absolutely nails what it is to be a teenager with angst. I loved his performance and directors and kid actors out there should try to realize less is more with kids, and Win Win gets that right.
Normally, I put a lot of stock in the first ten minutes of a film. I've talked about it recently with Red Riding Hood. With Win Win I was a little worried. There wasn't much of a path or hook besides a guy struggling with money. At first Burt Young's Leo seems to be a distraction. Be patient. Win Win is worth the wait, and truly is a victory.
FINAL SCORE: 9/10