Cast: Paul Giamatti, Alex, Shaffer, Bobby Cannavale, Amy Ryan, Jeffrey Tambor, Burt Young, Melanie Lynskey
Fordham University '15
"I am Ozymandias, king of kings: look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!" -Percy Bysshe Shelley
Review By: Kieran Newton
I’m not even going to bother with a lead in: Win Win is just a darn good movie, and you should see it. All the cliché descriptors apply: it’s full of heart and humor, it makes you think, and it’s probably one of the best little indie films to come out this year. The blu-ray, while a little light on content, is also thoroughly enjoyable. If you don’t buy this outright, I certainly recommend you rent it. It’s a good package, through and through.
The story concerns struggling geriatric law attorney and volunteer high school wrestling coach Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti), who, in short, makes a morally questionable decision in order to keep his family and small practice afloat. One of his clients, Leo Poplar (Burt Young) having been declared incompetent by the state, requires a guardian, and in order to get the monthly check from the state, Flaherty accepts this role, under questionable circumstances. Throw in Leo’s grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer), a quiet kid who loves to wrestle and just wants the best for his grandfather and you have a delightful mix of storylines and their respective metaphorical relations. It’s a fun film.
One of the reasons it succeeds so handily is because of the cast, which is universally great. Giamatti plays Flaherty so well because, well, he looks like he could easily be a down-on-his-luck lawyer, and you see him justifying his own actions to himself. Amy Ryan is also really great as Flaherty’s wife Jackie, a loving, mildly-overbearing mother who is earnest and hilarious in all the right ways. Perhaps the best thing the film has to offer is Shaffer, who is just phenomenal as a closed off yet surprisingly emotionally relatable character. So often in movies with a central (but not lead) teenager, either the character or the actor is simply surly and abrasive; Kyle and Shaffer are so good because while that may be the facade they exhibit, there is a lot of depth to their characters, as well.
In Win Win we also have another very successful writer/director endeavor by Thomas McCarthy, who is an actor himself and, perhaps more impressively, worked on the story for Up. The film is tender, but doesn’t paint anybody in the film as singularly good or bad, instead showing that everybody makes mistakes, has problems, and gets frustrated and beaten down by life from time to time. This is the triumph of the script and of the direction, the moral greyscale causing the audience to constantly question whether the character they are rooting for is really worthy of their affection, just like real life.
There are also some little details in the film that make it really stick out in the audience’s memory—supporting and bit performances by Bobby Cannavale and Jeffrey Tambor as two of the assistant wrestling coaches are hilarious and wonderfully petty, and one of
I mean, it’s not without problems, but what problems there are are mostly insignificant. I can certainly see many people not easily connecting with the characters, or fully understanding their motivations, but I actually think the subtlety with which the story is presented is refreshing, especially in the current film climate of “every viewer is an idiot so let’s spell every little thing out for them” that Hollywood has begun to peddle.
Speaking of small problems, the special features are cool, but also mildly “eh.” There’s a few interviews, the best of which centers on the writers of the film, a music video for that song by The National that I mentioned, and of course, the all-too-frequently-included director’s commentary. I still just don’t see the point of those. However, the absolute best part of the special features is a little video following David W. Thompson, who I mentioned earlier plays the bit character Stemler, a less-than-adequate high school wrestler, walking around Sundance Film Festival. I was laughing so hard at this kid that I desperately wished he had more screen time. He’s an absolute riot, and I can see him going places.
Good movie. Some good features. Sounds pretty snazzy to me.