Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Box Office Review: Win Win

Including Win Win, Thomas McCarthy has directed three films since 2003. His two previous films The Station Agent and The Visitor each feature character actors (Peter Dinklage, and Richard Jenkins respectively) giving lead performances. McCarthy continues that trend by casting Paul Giamatti as the main character in Win Win. Another similarity that Win Win has with McCarthy's previous films is that it is a very good film that tells a simple, and satisfying story.

Giamatti plays Mike Flaherty, a struggling attorney in a small New Jersey town with a Wife (played by Amy Ryan) and two young kids. On the side, Mike and his business partner Stephen Vigman (Jeffrey Tambor) coach a local high school wrestling team with a less than desirable win record. With the bills piling up, Mike makes a questionable business and moral choice, taking advantage of client Leo Poplar a pre-dementia client played by Burt Young. This decision leads to the meeting of Leo's grandson, the amazing but troubled young wrestler Kyle (newcomer Alex Shaffer).With increased finances and a champion wrestler on his team, it seems like Mike has everything figured. That is when Leo's fresh out of rehab daughter (Melanie Lynskey), Kyle's mother shows up to complicate things.

Win Win is able to successfully combine a family drama with a sports movie, and the result is a funny , heartfelt, relate able film. Giamatti plays possibly the most realistic coach of a high school team I have ever seen on film. During a scene early in the film, he yells at his team because of their lacklustre effort and I actually felt a bit uncomfortable because of how authentic this scene feels. The actual wrestling scenes take up a small part of the film, but the these scenes do add humour and excitement to the film.

The movies main focus is on young wrestler Kyle's relationship with Mike and his family. This is both a strength and weakness for the film. The way that Kyle begins to become part of Mike's family feels natural. Smartly the film not only shows his relationship with Mike, but also shows his relationship with Amy Ryan's character Jackie. It makes sense that a mother would be uncomfortable with a strange teenager staying in her house. The film takes the time to show Kyle gaining her trust and becoming part of her family.This includes some emotional scenes, and this is where my problem with the film arises. This is actor Alex Shaffer's very first role. Prior to the film, he was actually a star high school wrestler. When he is playing Kyle as a reserved kid, he does a good job, but the more emotional scenes at the end of the film show his inexperience. His newness as an actor is even more apparent when he is going toe to toe with actors like Giamatti and Ryan. It is hard to criticize his performance too much, as he is given a lot to do for his first film, and for the majority of the movie he does an impressive job. The more emotional scenes just lack the power that could have been if the character of Kyle was played by a more experienced actor.

I enjoyed Win Win very much. Director Thomas McCarthy has the gift of being able to tell stories that are funny and emotionally effective without any pretension. I was engrossed in the film from beginning to end, and even my phone ringing (it was on vibrate) in my pocket didn't tear me away.

A Gold Banana

(On a side note, this was the best digital protection I have ever seen. It looked amazing, and this is a film that doesn't try to be visually striking.)


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