April 26, 2011

Win Win (2011)

IT’S SATURDAY NIGHT, and I’m taking FilmMother out for a belated birthday dinner and a movie. I’m excited about getting the chance to see a film in a theater, and I wonder aloud about when was the last time she and I did so without the kids.

Valentine’s Day,” she informs me. She’s referring to both the holiday and the movie from 2010. In other words, over a year ago.

So yes, while we have seen movies in theaters since then (Toy Story 3, Despicable Me), this is the first time in a long time that we’re hitting the local cineplex childless.

My immediate thought: Let’s make this count by picking a good movie that the kids either couldn’t or wouldn’t want to see.

In Win Win, Paul Giamatti (Private Parts, Shoot ‘Em Up) is small-time New Jersey lawyer Mike Flaherty, who has a declining practice, financial woes (both in his practice and his family life), and an aging client named Leo (Burt Young) battling the early stages of dementia. When Mike learns that Leo’s estate would pay $1,500 a month for an at-home guardian, he offers himself for the job, then puts Leo in a senior living facility and pockets the money anyway. But Mike’s visions of an easy payday begin to fade when Leo’s teenage grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer) suddenly appears on the scene. And just when Mike thinks he's found a way to make this new development work, the boy's mother (Melanie Lynskey) shows up and puts Mike’s plans in jeopardy.


From the opening scene of two joggers passing Mike as he tries to keep a steady pace, Win Win writer/director Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent) prepares us for a portrait of a man who is losing ground: Mike’s caseload is waning, expenses at work and home are growing, and he’s coaching a god-awful high school wrestling team.

McCarthy’s films thrive on relatable characters in an environment that captures the realism of everyday life, and Giamatti is a perfect fit for both of these elements as Mike – a good guy and family man who, in desperation, makes a move to improve his life that he believes will truly hurt no one.

Of course, no film is complete without conflict, and Win Win has its share in the form of Leo’s supposedly reformed addict daughter Cindy (played with convincing vulnerability and opportunism by Lynskey) and the fallout from when Mike’s little scam is ultimately exposed. However, the film isn’t just 105 minutes of heavy drama; it also features several laugh-out-loud scenes as well as engaging and well-shot wrestling sequences.

And while the framework of Win Win has been seen many times – guy does something for selfish reasons, grows feelings for those he's exploiting, tries to explain “it's not like that now” when he gets caught – it’s a true testament to McCarthy's vision, and to the stellar cast he's assembled, that in watching Win Win you don’t feel like you've seen it all before.

Speaking of the cast, in addition to the always reliable Giamatti, Win Win features The Office’s Amy Ryan as Mike’s supportive yet Jersey-tough wife Jackie; Jeffrey Tambor as Mike’s colleague and assistant wrestling coach Steve; Bobby Cannavale in a highly entertaining turn as Mike’s childhood friend Terry, who’s still clinging to his glory days as a high school wrestler (even though he sucked); and newcomer Shaffer, who does an impressive job as the brooding and guarded Kyle.

Had it been packed with A-list stars, Win Win (a hit at Sundance) would currently be the talk of the town and number one at the box office. But the fact it’s not jammed with “movie stars” but rather with believable, respected, relatable actors is truly what makes it work.

There were only eight other people in our theater when FilmMother and I saw Win Win. A great movie-going experience for us, but a travesty for such a well-made, feel-good, and rewarding film as this. Right this wrong; go see Win Win as soon as you can.

Fun facts:
* McCarthy planned for Amy Ryan’s character to have a leg tattoo of her favorite Jersey rocker, but he wasn’t sure if it should be Bruce Springsteen or Jon Bon Jovi. He asked Alex Shaffer’s mom, who’s from Jersey, and her immediate response was, “Jon Bon Jovi, of course!”
* Shaffer is a nationally ranked wrestler in real life. A two-time regional champion, he became a New Jersey state champion in his weight class just before filming Win Win (his acting debut).


Is it suitable for your kids?
Win Win is rated R largely for adult language, with some adult themes and one butt shot courtesy of Cannavale’s character as he e-mails a picture of his bare ass to his estranged wife.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
Most definitely. Win Win is a great movie to share together, and she’ll be happily satisfied after viewing it.

They’ve fallen, and they can’t get up!
(What, you think you can do better?
Add your witty caption in the Comments section.)

Win Win
* Director: Tom McCarthy
* Screenwriter: Tom McCarthy
* Stars: Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale, Jeffrey Tambor, Burt Young, Melanie Lynskey, Alex Shaffer, Margo Martindale, David W. Thompson
* MPAA Rating: R

Buy Win Win (DVD) at Half.com >>
Buy Win Win (Blu-ray) at Half.com >>
Rent Win Win from Netflix >>


James (SeattleDad) said...

Loved this one! It actually made my list of top movies A-Z on a recent post.

As I said, best HS wrestling movie since Vision Quest.

Your escalator operator said...

Good review. This was my favorite movie of the year so far. (Bonus points for the song by The National playing over the end credits.)

Geof said...

I have heard a lot about this one and have been curious. I totally dig Giamatti, so that fact and your generous rating means I need to step up my game and check it out.

hels said...

Hello, fellow LAMB. Just wanted to let you know that The LAMMYs are coming up and we are hoping for the best voter turnout for the nominations ever. Every LAMB #1-900 is eligible to vote (and to win!), and that includes you. To participate, please go to this site: http://www.misterpoll.com/polls/521956


M. Carter @ the Movies said...

I'm stoked to see "Win Win" once it either hits an indie theater in Charlotte or comes to DVD ... love Paul Giamatti and love Amy Ryan.


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