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. Written by
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Alex Shaffer was indeed the New Jersey state high school wrestling champion the year before the film was made. However, he had to quit the sport due to a back injury. See more »
When the team is on the bus heading to a match, they are going from their school in NJ to another school in NJ. However, the shot of the road they are driving down is in Rockville Centre, Long Island, NY (one of the admitted locations where the movie was filmed). In traveling from one school in NJ to another school in NJ, there would be absolutely no reason to pass through LI. See more »
Actor-turned-director Tom McCarthy has put together a fine third feature in Win Win. All of his films tend to have compact stories that are small in scope but feature a very focused lens on the lives of their characters.
One might say that Win Win is perhaps his most conventional dramedy, as it features a normal suburban family with normal suburban problems. Paul Giamatti is "Mike Flaherty" an attorney with a small practice who's also a high school wrestling coach. He's not perfect, but he's doing the best he can. He and his wife "Jackie" (the always wonderful Amy Ryan) are busy raising two kids and leading their quiet life. But when Mike gives into temptation to become the guardian of one his elderly clients (for the $1,500 a month commission) things get to be a little more complicated. The client's grandson, a troubled 16-year-old kid named "Kyle" (Alex Shaffer) comes to stay with his grandfather while his mother goes through her drug treatment. Since his grandfather is living in a retirement home, Kyle ends up staying with Mike and Jackie, who feel compelled to help the kid out.
The film is funny and sweet and paints a really true-to-life portrait of its characters. No one is purely good or purely bad, they're all just human. They make mistakes, whether large or small, and they try to make up for them. In that way, the film will strike a nice honest chord with most of its audience.
Paul Giamatti is great in this, giving a much lower key performance than some of his previous works like American Splendor, Sideways, and even "John Adams." He falls into the suburban dad character very well and wears the character's skin rather nicely. Amy Ryan is always a joy to see on-screen, but I was a bit disappointed that her character was a little one-dimensional, depicting her primarily as a stay at home housewife and mother. Bobby Cannavale and Jeffrey Tambor are fun to watch as well, but serve generally to provide comedic relief (which they do in abundance) and their characters aren't nearly as well painted as Mike or Kyle.
Alex Shaffer, in his very first role, holds his own among some heavyweight actors. I thought some of the emotional scenes were a bit rough for him, but if he decides to continue his acting, more experience will only help to mature his instincts and abilities. Now, outside those heavily emotional scenes, Shaffer is great. His sort of deadpan, monotone delivery works very well for the character.
Kudos go out to Thomas McCarthy's directorial style and talent. He's put together three solid films, all of them equally enjoyable and smart. With Win Win, he's proved he can move past the "loner" archetype of his previous films and move into something more family oriented and encompassing of more characters (although when I think about it The Station Agent had that type of familial quality to it in the friends that Finbar meets). Either way, McCarthy is batting 1.000 in my book and has yet to have a misstep.
When the film releases on March 18th, I'd highly recommend people go and check it out. It's a very sweet and very funny film that deserves the large audience it hopefully will get.
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