Directed by Tom McCarthy
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale, Jeffrey Tambor, Burt Young, Melanie Lynskey, Alex Shaffer
Release: March 18, 2011
Reciprocity is what we find in all of director Tom McCarthy’s films and very rarely found in others’ films. He is a filmmaker who recognizes and spotlights individuals who are of two molds: caretakers and people who need taken care of. What defines a film by McCarthy, though, is his ability to make a character both caretaker and one who needs to be taken care of. His two previous films, The Station Agent and The Visitor, displayed individuals who were emotionally destroyed and in shameful situations. But yet there still remained in them a spark of life that has the ability to make the necessary preparations for getting themselves and others whose lives have been stifling out of a grievous situation. Win Win is no different. The film doesn’t see the human spirit as triumphant, and while that may sound bleak it is the foundation in which McCarthy constructs his films on. He evaluates his characters in a burdensome state only to find in them qualities that may allow them to rise against adversity.
Win Win, a comedy-drama that takes into consideration the fragility of the human spirit, is a small film with, sad to say, small ambitions. It plays it safe with the material it has while room for expansion is evident and much encouraged. McCarthy doesn’t magnify his material but rather keeps it subdued while we want more emotion, especially when we have actors capable of exploiting their internal and external frustrations.
Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) is suffering as being a mediocre lawyer at his own New Jersey firm and yet firmly convinced that he is a good husband and father. He is McCarthy’s ideal vision of a man well acquainted with the difficulties of life and the happiness of life as well. As a lawyer Mike is faced with meaningless cases and renovations that may be beyond repair. These problems seep through to his home life because Mike’s salary isn’t enough. He makes sure his wife (Amy Ryan) and his two young daughters have a good life. Though he may be struggling he is taking care of them. He is a caretaker. Times are rough for Mike but he still finds time to be a high school wrestling coach along with his firm co-worker (Jeffrey Tambor) and his best friend (Bobby Cannavale) who is suffering from his marriage gone awry. Giamatti shows a wide range of acting, seemingly embodying the frustrated businessman, the caring provider of his family, an inspirational friend to two men, and a motivational coach.
As we can tell Mike’s spirit isn’t triumphant or in the greatest of moods. But opportunity (with much aid of a script) comes when Leo (Burt Young: Rocky’s trainer), a wealthy man suffering from dementia, approaches Mike’s firm because he has no guardian to take care of him. This would result in Leo getting placed in a nursing home, something he strongly detests. But Mike learns that Leo’s caretaker would receive $1,500 a month. In the situation Mike is in that money would help. He takes the job but places Leo in a nursing home. Soon after a teenager arrives. His name is Kyle (Alex Shaffer) and he is searching for his grandfather. It just so happens that Kyle happens to be a great wrestler but comes with a lot of baggage; he is a wounded soul who has a mother (Melanie Lynskey) who neglects him. Mike takes Kyle in, knowing the consequences that will ensue, and grooms him for his wrestling team, a team that resembles the film’s characters: beaten, depressed and hopeful.
Win Win is funny and heartfelt, an offbeat comedy: a genre that is accustomed to dealing with dysfunctional families and their absurd situations. The script, with all that happens, is a bit too clean and exact, almost in a blatantly contrived way. Yet we are happy while watching all the commotion these characters are caught in. It is pure storytelling by a man who is proficient at dissecting the human spirit. McCarthy has a knack for discerning human emotions that usually go uncultivated in mainstream cinema. The attention he pays to his characters’ feelings and impulses reveal in them something universal, something that while watching the film we can relate to.
Rating ***1/2 out of *****