In the game of life, you can’t lose ’em all.
WIN WIN (2011) is a comedy/drama written and directed by Thomas McCarthy (The Visitor) and stars Academy Award nominees Paul Giamatti (Sideways), Amy Ryan (Jack Goes Boating), and newcomer Alex Shaffer in a film about a wrestling coach who takes in a troubled teenage runaway, who also happens to be a champion wrestler.
Mike Flaherty (Giamatti) is a small-town lawyer, struggling to make ends meet. He lives with his morally witty wife Jackie (Ryan) and his two daughters. When not practicing law–he volunteers as a high-school wrestling coach along with his friend, Stephen Vigman (Jeffery Tambor), and Terry Delfino (Bobby Cannavale)–who needed something else to do besides spying on his ex-wife and her new boyfriend.
Mike is not doing too well in his practice; for in his small town–his clients, which are mostly comprised of senior citizens–other than that, there just aren’t enough clients. He is having trouble paying his bills, and the heating and plumbing in his office have just about had it. When an opportunity presents itself, Mike could become a guardian of his wealthy client Leo (Burt Young). The job would yield a steady income of $1,500 a month–and he appointed himself the responsibility of caring for Leo, who is in the beginning stages of dementia. With what seemed to be an adherence to the court’s wishes–that Leo be adequately cared for–Mike was going to ensure Leo’s welfare, emphasizing that his client wants to remain in his home, and not a care facility. Instead of Mike honoring Leo’s wishes–he instead places him in a nursing home, while he keeps the checks for guardianship. Deceptive, I agree, however; what he didn’t expect was 16-year-old Kyle (Shaffer) who is the son of Leo’s estranged daughter–showing up on Leo’s doorstep.
Kyle is from a broken home, fed up with his drug-addicted mother and her abusive boyfriend. He ran away to his long lost grandfather Leo’s home. When Mike went to gather some of Leo’s things, he found Kyle there, just sitting and waiting for his grandfather. With no place to go, Mike takes Kyle into his home. His wife, even once referencing to Kyle as “Eminem,” thinks he is of the criminal type. But what Mike and his wife didn’t count on, was Kyle’s genuine honesty–and being a kick-ass high-school champion wrestler.
Eventually, Mike’s win-win situation–Leo’s $1,500 a month stipend, Kyle winning the wrestling matches for the local high-school–starts to crumble when Kyle’s mother finally enters the picture. Not only is she gunning for Leo’s money–she is also trying to repair her broken relationship with her son. Her visiting proved to be most disharmonious. And leaves Mike with much for explanations. As viewers, we are not only drawn into Mike’s false choices–but we understand his overall ambition to do the right thing for his family, friends, and the difficulty in trying to make peace with all those surrounding him.
There is so much about Win Win that I can go on about. But what I can assure you of, is that this is a solid drama and is consistent in story, emotion, and performances. Writer/director McCarthy is recognized for portraying middle-aged men surviving a self-induced crisis and is successful in drawing you into his characters struggles and keenly delivering an emotionally satisfying outcome. Paul Giamatti and Amy Ryan were fantastic in this film as a supportive married couple–both useful in providing intensity when the script demands it, and the uncanny ability to be able to make us laugh even during those intense times. Newcomer Alex Shaffer got to be himself, a state-champion wrestler, which sealed in his convincing and stellar performance as a troubled youth who eventually became an inspiration to all those around him, especially to his high-school wrestling teammates.
I am usually not a fan of sport-type films (i.e. The Blind Side, Leatherheads, etc.is suppose). In fact, I am not a sports person. However, after watching the acting performances in this film–I may give sports films another chance. Win Win has just set a new bar on what an intended-to-inspire film supposed to be like.