17 May 2011
2011, 106mins, 15
Director: Thomas McCarthy
Writer (s): Thomas McCarthy, Joe Tiboni
Cast includes: Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Alex Shaffer, Burt Young, Bobby Cannavale
UK Release Date: 20th May 2011
A softly spoken but thoroughly engaging picture, “Win Win” works hard to deliver three dimensional characters, honest drama and witty dialogue. Director/writer Thomas McCarthy guides a stellar cast through some pretty formulaic narrative beats, but thanks to the filmmaker’s impeccable ability to create authentic human interaction, it’s easy to overlook the uninspired premise, audiences instead becoming immersed within the movie’s rich tapestry of emotion.
Mike (Paul Giamatti) is a devoted family man, a part-time wrestling coach and a struggling attorney; his worrying financial situation caused by a lack of clientele. In order to try and rectify his monetary concerns, Mike becomes the legal guardian of a mentally dwindling older man named Leo (Burt Young); the extra cash the task affords helping to cure his incapacitating stress. However when Leo’s reclusive grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer) rolls into town, Mike is left swamped in the middle of a complex family dynamic, Kyle refusing to return home and reunite with his druggie mother (Melanie Lynskey). As a result Mike and his wife Jackie (Amy Ryan) take Kyle under their roof, the extent of the teen’s past trauma soon becoming clear, as to does his surprising aptitude for wrestling.
“Win Win” is an unlikely story of companionship between two very different people; the pair bonding as each helps to resolve the other’s problems. Not exactly a fresh formula in Hollywood these days, especially given that sporting glory is also a vital facet of the film’s arc. What marks the production out is its lack of melodrama, “Win Win” instead opting to uphold a more organic tone, featuring characters that feel detached from the usual genre stereotypes. McCarthy also instills “Win Win” with a slight but mostly successful strain of comedy, allowing audiences to more easily digest the inner turmoil its protagonists seem to be suffering through.
Paul Giamatti is very likeable as Mike, and strikes up a delightfully underplayed chemistry with the exceptional Alex Shaffer. “Win Win” applies most of its focus onto this unusual duo, McCarthy subtly connecting the characters through a selection of minor similarities. Kyle provides Mike with a chance to redeem himself for his dubious extortion of Leo, and of course represents a talented addition to Mike’s generally useless High School wrestling squad. On the other hand Kyle regains his confidence thanks to his newfound athletic convictions and the stable and loving environment Jackie and Mike openly supply. McCarthy stitches this all together (very assuredly) to create a dramedy that resonates until well after the closing credits, even ifs its overarching story is nothing to get particularly excited about.
The supporting cast bring extra vibrancy to the movie, particularly Amy Ryan (always stunning) and Bobby Cannavale (he played one of Will Ferrell’s obnoxious co-workers in “The Other Guys”), both delivering warm and phenomenally adept turns. McCarthy is clearly a director with a knack for guiding actors (his last film “The Visitor” earned Richard Jenkins high profile attention), “Win Win” helping to confirm his abilities and cement him as a name to watch out for at future award ceremonies. Due to this specific effort’s breezier aura I can see the Academy happily ignoring it, but when McCarthy eventually gets behind weightier material, he’ll be much tougher to overlook.
Melanie Lynskey is miscast as Kyle’s belligerent mother (she’s simply too cute by nature), representing the only major thespian induced misstep the film makes. The final act is rife with conflict, as secrets come to the fore and legal battles are fought, but “Win Win” wraps up on an appropriately low-key note, embossing itself with a refined dignity that only adds to the project’s overall appeal. It’s a charismatic motion picture, with enough heart and sincerity to compensate for its less grandiose components.
A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011