Win Win Reviews
Perennial loser-with-layers portrayer Paul Giamatti plays Mike, a hard-up estate lawyer who commits a bit of light fraud with a rich, demented client to pay his own crippling household debts. The old man's grandson, Kyle, shows up from the wrong side of the tracks in hopes of getting away from a druggie mother, and Mike takes him under his wing out of pity and guilt, then genuine caring, and the two strike up a bond over high school wrestling...that is until Kyle finds out about Mike's transgression.
Alex Shaffer plays the bleach blonde Kyle with reticence but manners, and Bobby Cannavale plays the gregarious overgrown Guido-type, Terry, with charming impishness. The wrestling plot is triumphant and fast-paced, and the growing affection in this unconventional family tugs at some heartstrings.
The legal subplot with Kyle's mom wanting guardianship of Leo for shady reasons is a bit convoluted and underdeveloped though; we're supposed to sympathize with Leo and Kyle who just want to be left alone in their own home, but apparently, Leo wasn't a great father and may have contributed to his daughter's drug problems. What then?
That's the situation attorney and moon-lighting wrestling coach Mike Flaherty (Giamatti) finds himself when, in desperate need of cash, becomes the guardian of Leo Poplar (Young), who has started to lose his sense of reality. What he didn't foresee is that soon enough, Poplar's grandson, Kyle (Shaffer) pops up in town in need of a guardian too. At first his surly demeanor makes Mike's family's life even harder. However, when Kyle turns out to be a brilliant wrestler, everything starts improving and soon, they become a true family.
Win Win doesn't just keep it simple though. Giamatti's character is far from perfect. He's surly and desperate, most often just thinking about his own goals. And yet, you still like him. He's an everyday man trying to do what he can to get by. Giamatti once again shows his acting chops. Shaffer does a great job in portraying the brooding teen Kyle and doesn't feel like just another teen role.
The film's script and direction by Tom McCarthy are, however, what give the film the life that permeates its entirety. In particular, the conversations of the characters feel natural but often hilarious. This is a dramedy, after all, but be warned that the focus is on drama. The characters' struggles are believable and often multi-layered, and when it gets to the breaking point you feel as hopeless as Mike himself.
Win Win doesn't do much with its core narrative, and you almost feel like something a bit more could've been done to make it go on a bit longer. Regardless, Win Win is a funny, touching and clever dramedy that is among the finest films released this year.
I really don't like sport themed movies (or sport especially), so usually end up bored and wishing I hadn't bothered. This is about wrestling, but it's secondary to the main story. Actually a really good movie, good story about a guy who is going broke so takes on guardianship of an elderly man and winds up saddled with the grandson and ex druggie daughter as well. Really good characters and believable acting.
Ending a little too convenient, but it's a minor gripe.
Believable is the operative word here - from the very first frame this film has a tone and feel that is so very "normal" and, yes, believable. Virtually every character does more than just inhabit the film; they are flesh and blood, with their own issues and foibles, but it is Giamatti who once again holds the center with his amazing ability to play characters who are "just like us".
As the film begins we see Giamatti jogging along an idyllic forested path. He's doing ok, right? But then a younger pair of joggers blow by him and he stops his jog - as if admitting defeat. A beautiful and symbolic way of introducing the character. This scene is followed by a view of a window with one of those stick on stain glass angels. As the camera pans in the angel falls to the ground, echoing the sentiment that all is not so rosy for Giamatti. There's a wonderful tag to the scene in which Giamatti's young daughter enters the picture, sees that the angel has fallen, goes to pick it off the floor and sees that the center piece of glass (yellow, which echoes the yellow hoody that Giamatti is wearing in the first scene), has fallen out. Her response to this is a simple, poignant and funny "oh shit".
From here we move on to find that Giamatti's law practice is failing and he doesn't know how to generate more income. An opportunity comes along that will allow him to stay afloat, but is in a kind of grey area legally, and is certainly crossing the line ethically. When Giamatti decides to go down that slippery slope he sets in motion a chain reaction of events (all of which are totally plausible) that make this human dramedy work like a well oiled machine.
Taken at face value, one might easily dismiss the film as some overly sentimental tripe, but McCarthy directs this almost to perfection so you never feel the well worn aspects or start to doubt the believability of what is being presented. Of course McCarthy has a stellar cast to help him along the way. From the wonderful portrayal of the good wife by Amy Ryan, to the somewhat goofy, yet acceptable with a wry inner smile performance of Bobby Cannavale as Giamatti's friend and confident, you feel that these people are real - that you know them, or someone very like them.
Add a couple of very nice cameo's by Jeffrey Tambor and Margo Martindale and you have a film that tells a story, yet is more telling about life and values. There is a subplot concerning high school wrestling, but that is a mere underpinning for exploring other things. Alex Shaffer is the focus and motivator of much of the action in and around the wrestling mat, and while he comes off somewhat wooden, it is exactly what a 16 year old with no parental structure would probably be like.
In the end, it is the humanity and gentle humor that set this film apart from so many lesser efforts - it somehow found its voice and style, and expertly maintains it thanks to McCarthy's sure handed direction.
In closing, I'd like to add another juicy bit of the film's humor: there's a young boy on the wrestling team who is a star wars junky. When he finally gets his chance to perform on the mat he is paired against a guy who wears a black protective device over his face - the kid immediately starts to tear off his jersey, complaining that he'll have no chance against Darth Vader.
Of course there's big reveals, and things take a turn for the dramatic, but it all ends well and the characters gain the important life lessons that they need to from a situation like this. SImply put, each year has at least one feel good indie (or at least one that stands out), and for 2011, WIn Win is that film.
There are some dramatic moments. and they really work, but what really makes this film a winner are the great characters, and the humor. There are multiple characters who really steal the show and ham it up, and that's not a bad thing at all in my eyes. Sure, Bobby Cannavale is a bit obnoxious here, but it is a good perforamnce. Giamatti of course delivers another finely observed role as Mike, Amy Ryan is nice as his wife, Jeffrey Tambor is pretty funny as the full time wrestling coach, and well, ya know waht? Everyone is good here. Alex Shaffer brings a lot of promise in his role as the wrestling runaway, and, in a smaller, but vital role, Melanie Lynskey really shines as Alex's deadbeat druggie mother. Heck, even the little kids in this movie are more than just tolerable. Awesome. Oh yeah, and Burt Young proves that the Rocky series is not the only place where he lets his sadly underappreciated talents shine.
Well, if I seem to like this so much, then why only 4 stars? Well, I do like how, even though he has good intentions with it, Mike's scheme isn't entirely the nicest or morally proper thing in the world. Now, he's not portrayed as a sleazy shyster type of lawyer; he's a regular guy in a bad way, but still. I liked that, but the rest of the film is really pretty unoriginal and just a variation on a theme. It's well played, sure, but still, it's not all that remarkable, or really all that memorable.Plus, with all the swearing at kids during wrestling matches, some of this is rather unrealistic, and wouldn't be happening (at least not so obviously) in reality without consequences.
I do really dig it though, and we need films like this to remind us not only of how great character actors in a caracter driven indie can be, but that without feel good movies, this world wold far less tolerable to deal with.
Director: Thomas McCarthy
Summary: When down-on-his-luck part-time high school wrestling coach Mike agrees to become legal guardian to an elderly man, his ward's troubled grandson turns out to be a star grappler, sparking dreams of a big win -- until the boy's mother retrieves him.
My Thoughts: "The indie film is a little quirky with a bit of comedy, but it's mostly a drama. I really enjoyed Paul Giamatti and Amy Ryan in this movie. I thought they were well matched to play husband and wife. Alex Shaffer was a bit stiff in his performance and maybe that's how he's suppose to portray Kyle, but it was just too stiff for me. But great acting all around. The story itself is one I've seen before, but even with it being nothing new, it was still a good film and well done."
Excellent Film! Like enduring friendships, "Win Win" grows and deepens as it unfolds. The characters become more dear, the laughs get louder and the plot thickens. The acting from Paul Giamatti was unreal and so was everyone else in this film. The story was original and unique which gave it a plus to it's great script. Highly recommended for everyone who wants to enjoy a good solid film.
Disheartened attorney Mike Flaherty (Giamatti), who moonlights as a high school wrestling coach, stumbles across a star athlete through some questionable business dealings while trying to support his family. Just as it looks like he will get a double payday, the boy's mother shows up fresh from rehab and flat broke, threatening to derail everything.
"In the game of life, you can't lose them all."
Win Win is one gem of an Indie Dramedy. Paul Giamatti gives my favorite performance of the year. As his wife, Amy Ryan also gives a spectacular performance that I really didn't see coming. Alex Schaffer gives a very good teenager performance in his first role ever. There was nothing I didn't like about this movie. The more I think about this movie; the more I think it is my favorite movie of 2011 to this point; at least my favorite American movie of 2011. It is a slow moving, funny and touching film. It moves along slowly but surely and never makes a spectacle out of the characters situations. The movie is very much like Kyle. There's a lot going on with it, but it doesn't come right out and say what that it is. It's subtle and gentle and dare I say Perfect.
Tom McCarthy deserves some acclaim for this movie. He pulled a movie off that many would fail with. Many directors would go for too much emotion in spots and make it very melodramatic. McCarthy doesn't, instead he just lets everything play out as it would in life. His characters are real and the viewer never doubts that they are. Giamatti and Ryan are convincing as the parents of two who take in a teenager they don't know. Both give very real performances. Giamatti always has a knack for this. He doesn't seem like a star, but an average Joe. After watching in him a few movies though; there is no doubt he is a star. He is Paul Fucking Giamatti.
I'm in love with everything about this movie. The movie has a sense of humor without relying on its humor to fill in for plot. Its humor is all in the context with the problems of its characters and the skills of Kyle. Don't overlook this movie because it didn't get a wide release. This is a movie that must be seen.
I honestly expected much more from this movie; the reason for being that the cast is so good that even if the movie lacked an interesting story line that the actors would be able to pick it up. I am not suggesting that this is a bad movie, but I felt as though not a lot was put into it, not from the actors or the director.
The story is not something unique, it's like "The Blind Side", where a family involuntarily adopt a young boy who has a gift in an area of sport (in this case wrestling) and the story follows the family and the complications that come with them. It can be considered a comedy, but don't expect to laugh, but rather have a few quiet giggles and that's it.
By looking at the names in this movie, Giamatti, Cannavale, Ryan, Tambor, and Young, its almost instantly that you will create a great expectation for the movie based on these names. However, and most unluckily this great cast wasn't able to convince me that much. It felt as though there was something missing, some sort of connection between them and the characters given to them.
The directing to isn't very good. At moments you can see the movie striving to be laconic, and it's almost disturbing on how hard Tom McCarthy tries to create a sense of drama in a movie that really doesn't need it.
However, its not all bad; as a matter of fact if I had come to watch this movie without any expectations, I probably wouldn't be so deluded. But I still feel that there is a missing piece to this movie, something that I think Tom McCarthy probably felt too.
Jackie Flaherty: "This kids got a chance to do something special, maybe even change his life."