Paul Giamatti turns a sitcomish story into highly watchable dramedy.
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Reviewed for CompuServe by Harvey Karten
Directed By: Tom McCarthy
Written By: Tom McCarthy from a story by Tom McCarthy & Joe Tiboni
Cast: Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale, Jeffrey Tambor
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 2/28/11
Opens: March 18, 2011
Leave it to Paul Giamatti to take what is basically TV sitcom fare and elevate it to a film that effectively combines comedy with melodrama. Tom McCarthy in the director's chair has done notably work before, particularly with "The Station Agent," a shaggy-dog tale of a man afflicted with dwarfism who changes location to find solitude only to meet a chatty hot dog seller and a woman dealing with personal loss. The loneliness that McCarthy's character faced is not alike that affecting a 16-year-old high-school student whose mother is spending time in rehab, leaving the boy to fend on his own, and an old man who wants simply to continue living in his own home only to have the state of New Jersey declaring him in early dementia and in need of a legal guardian. (There's no way that we in the audience are convinced, though, that this particular fellow needs to be in assisted living.)
In this humanistic story whose feel-good conclusion is given away by its very title, Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti), the financial support of his wife, Jackie (Amy Ryan) and two young girls, needs money. He hasn't enough to fix the boiler in his shabby office or to take down the tree that threatens to crash into his home. When Leo Popular (Burt Young) is told he needs a guardian because of his early-stage dementia, Mike volunteers to look after him, his appetite whetted by the $1508 a month that the state will pay him. He makes a single immoral decision that alters the respect of his family, of the teen he informally adopts, and the Mother, Cindy (Melanie Lynskey) who wants his son to return home to her.
In side roles, Bobby Cannavale in the role of his pal Terry (Bobby Cannavale) is good for laughs, Jeffrey Tambor (Stephen Vigman) does reliable work as another friend,a CPA, and fellow coach who is also finding business difficult, and especially Amy Ryan as Mike's wife Jackie is solidly convincing as the family's moral center, one who forces Mike to sneak smokes behind the house. Especially good is Alex Shaffer as Kyle in his motion picture debut. The alienated boy, physically strong enough to turn around the high school's losing record in wrestling but vulnerable in his center, provides sports enthusiasts in the audience with several rounds of wrestling. The lad convinces because in real life he is an all-state wrestler who must have ignored the rage to take martial arts classes in favor of focusing on legitimate wrestling, which he studied since kindergarten.
The film, which combines wrestling with considerable drama, involving the attempt by the lead character to bond with a teen, was filmed in Rockville Center, New York, to stand in for New Providence, New Jersey.
If we take nothing else away from the film, here's one point about "Win Win" that might make us feel better about ourselves. Next time you're envious about John Grisham, the lawyer who made a fortune by turning best-selling novelist, or Alan Dershowitz, who teaches law at Harvard and is likewise a well-received author, remember the situation in "Win Win." One character plays a lawyer who can barely make ends meet, his New Jersey practice so slow that he takes desperate steps while his friend, a CPA is likewise struggling, causing him to coach high-school wrestling to stay on his feet. Not all lawyers and accountants have it made: we read only about the ones who work in white-shoe corporate firms or become famous as novelists and writers in general. "Win Win" tells it like it is.
Rated R. 106 minutes. © 2011 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Ofnline