May 4, 2011

Movie Review: Win Win

Here is a movie that doesn't have a disagreeable bone in its body. It has a set up not unlike a sitcom, even some of its execution is sitcom-like, but Win Win is better than that. This is a movie that is not great by any stretch, but is aware of what it is and what it wants to do. It sets its goal and does just that. And what is it that it does? It tells a story filled with well-meaning people who find themselves in a situation unfamiliar to them and how they deal with it.

Win Win is writer/director Thomas McCarthy's third film, each one has provided an interesting look at who are good people in unfamiliar situations, the other two films are The Station Agent and The Visitor. What works for his latest, and all of them for that matter, is the strong semblance of reality they have. The situation may seem like the sort that can only happen in the movies, but they feel perfectly real and the movie wins because of it.

The story centers on Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti), a struggling lawyer who in a moment of misguided inspiration petitions the court to be named the guardian of an elderly man named Leo (Burt Young). Why does he do this? For the monthly stipend check, of course. He turns around and puts Leo in an elderly care home and pockets the money instead. He isn't really being mean, but it did not look like Leo's estranged daughter was going to step up to assume any responsibility.

Anyway, Mike coaches the high school wrestling team alongside his friend Stephen (Jeffrey Tambor) and former wrestling buddy Terry (Bobby Cannavale). This does nothing to help him feel better as the team is terrible and hadn't won a match in years. Still, he has more money coming in to help at home with his wife Jackie (Amy Ryan).

Things take a turn when a teen boy shows up at Leo's place. Turns out this is Kyle (Alex Shaffer in his big screen debut). Not knowing what else to do, the Flaherty's take him in while trying to find his mom. It turns out that Kyle is an incredible wrestler (in reality Shaffer is a state champion wrestler). So Mike gets him into the school and on the team.

The deeper into the movie we get the further complicated things get. It is not hard to understand why what happens happens and how some of it could probably have been avoided. Still, this movie is a win win. The  plot may play out in the expected fashion, but the execution makes it a winner.

The cast is first rate. Paul Giamatti is the perfect guy for this role, the put upon everyman trying to hold it all together. His relationships with his friends and with Kyle are pretty great. Amy Ryan is the perfect strong willed foil for Mike. Tambor and Cannavale are solid back up players. Then there is Alex Shaffer, the sullen, monotone teen has a lot more going on than his voice would suggest, strong debut and I hope he does continue to act, I a, curious to see what else he might be able to do.

Overall, Win Win is not a great movie, but it is a very even one and one that is a pleasure to watch. It will make you laugh (or at leas smile), it will make you care about the characters, and at the end of it all you will feel better for having seen it.


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