Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Win Win (2011)

Image: 20th Century Fox

Writer/director Tom McCarthy has previously brought us indie gems The Station Agent and The Visitor. Each boasted an incredible cast of character actors in a story that appeared very familiar but actually had something of a twist. With Win Win, he pretty much stays true to form with one major deviation.

Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) is a family man who works as an attorney and a high school wrestling coach to support his family, but it’s not enough to keep his practice afloat. So when he learns that he could earn $1,500 a month to become client Leo’s (Burt Young) guardian, he takes the money and puts Leo in a home. But things get tricky when Leo’s grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer) pitches up. Mike and his wife Jackie’s (Amy Ryan) decision to let him stay pays off when they discover Kyle is a champion wrestler.

The major deviation is that nothing in Win Win goes against your expectations. It’s a very pleasant watch that’s enjoyably low-key and each member of the cast is fantastic. It’s just that a happy resolution is never really in doubt, and none of the characters do anything that you’re not expecting. 

However, there are more than enough reasons to watch Win Win. Apparently McCarthy wrote the script with specific actors in mind, and they are each of them perfect. Giamatti brings a nice sweetness to the browbeaten Mike, which is just as well as his bad decision early in the film might have derailed a lesser actor. Ryan (The Wire) is predictably superb as caring mother/hot-tempered Jersey girl Jackie, while newcomer Shaffer makes his monotone disaffected teen oddly affecting.  Elsewhere, Melanie Lynskey (Up in the Air), Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development) and Bobby Cannavale (The Station Agent) are perfect.

Perhaps where Win Win works best is in its depiction of various everyday crises. Mike can’t afford to fix the boiler that might very well explode. His colleague Vig (Tambor) has a stepson who hates him, even though he paid for his LASIK eye surgery. His buddy Terry (Cannavale) reacts badly to his wife leaving him and channels his energy into becoming an assistant coach for Mike’s team. While Tambor and Cannavale are laugh-out-loud funny, much of the wit in Win Win is of a much quieter variety. Even though you know where it’s going, the film ticks along and you’ll find yourself involved. Just don’t expect to remember too much about it after you leave the cinema.

It’s predictable, but also predictably watchable. An excellent cast and a well-observed script make this non-essential but enjoyable viewing.



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