Win Win (2011) Directed by Thomas McCarthy. With Paul Giamatti, Alex Shaffer, Amy Ryan, Jeffrey Tambor, Bobby Cannavale, Burt Young, Melanie Lynskey.
Written and directed by Thomas McCarthy, Win Win tells the story of a luckless lawyer and part-time wrestling coach (Paul Giamatti) who gets more than he bargained for when the teenage grandson of a client he has swindled comes to town.
A quick glance at the Rotten Tomatoes website throws up a 94% approval rating, which might lead you to assume your’e about to experience one of the more significant indie drama releases of the past few years. One of the holes in rating system of Rotten Tomatoes is that a score of 3/5 is counted as a fresh review. I’m guessing Win Win was awarded a lot of these. It’s about to get another; although sadly mine won’t count on the famous Tomatometer.
I was drawn to the film for two reasons; I enjoyed the director’s previous work – particularly 2003’s little-known gem, The Station Agent, and I’ll watch anything starring Paul Giamatti (Lady in the Water was my coming unstuck moment in this regard). While the film isn’t fuelled by any big dramatic movements or a sense of any overall importance, it still functions well as a cosy, yet largely incidental tale of responsibility and friendship.
Set in small-town New Jersey, the film can’t escape the blue-collar feel, despite it being home to white-collar ways; Bon Jovi are invoked in one cute scene. There is a grey/blue, slightly washed out aesthetic, coupled with regular scenes at the family home and office which come complete with a clanging boiler and a sense of clutter to add to the Giamatti character’s general imbalance.
The film develops its heartbeat with the arrival Kyle (Alex Shaffer), the aforementioned teenage son. At first, Kyle seems like your typical teen; monosyllabic and slightly vacant. Then, we discover he used wrestle. Like everything else in his life, Giamatti’s wrestling team are a bit of a failure. It turns out that Kyle is like the Lionel Messi of wrestling. Come to think of it, he looks a lot like a peroxide blonde version. This is where the story really gains traction.
As always, Giamatti plays the underdog well. He’s also strongly backed up by Jeffrey Tambor and Bobby Cannavale as friends/fellow wrestling coaches, in addition to a good-natured performance from Amy Ryan as his supportive wife. It is, though, his increasingly complicated relationship with young Kyle that resonates to leave the lasting impression. A win is a win. 3/5