Win Win *** ½
Directed by: Thomas McCarthy.
Written by: Thomas McCarthy.
Starring: Paul Giamatti (Mike Flaherty), Amy Ryan (Jackie Flaherty), Alex Shaffer (Kyle), Bobby Cannavale (Terry Delfino), Jeffrey Tambor (Stephen Vigman), Burt Young (Leo Poplar), Melanie Lynskey (Cindy), Margo Martindale (Eleanor), David W. Thompson (Stemler), Mike Diliello (Jimmy Reed), Nina Arianda (Shelly), Marcia Haufrecht (Gina Flaherty), Sharon Wilkins (Judge Lee), Clare Foley (Abby).
Things get more complicated when Kyle (Alex Shaffer) shows up. He says he is Leo’s grandson, who had to leave home because his mother is in drug rehab (not for the first time), and her boyfriend in an asshole, so he came to stay with the grandfather who never even knew he existed. Not wanting to leave the kid on his own, Mike and Jackie take him in for what is supposed to only be a few days, but of course turns out to be much longer. Mike, who coaches wrestling at the local high school brings Kyle to practice one day – and discovers that is good. State champion good. The two begin to bound – and Kyle begins to bond with Leo as well – but hanging over it all is the lie Mike told, and the realization that it will eventually come out. When Kyle’s mother Cindy (Melanie Lynsky) shows up, things get more complicated.
Win Win is a somewhat predictable movie, and one that is built on the type of coincidence that rarely happens in real life. I mean, truly, what are the odds that Kyle would be a great wrestler who just happens to being staying with a high school wrestling coach? But when a movie is as lovable as Win Win, you hardly notice or care about these things. This is a movie that moves effortlessly between comedy and drama, and remains at its heart a character driven film anchored by wonderful performances.
This is director Thomas McCarthy’s third film, following The Station Agent which gave wonderful roles to Peter Dinklage, Bobby Canavale and Patricia Clarkson and The Visitor, which gave great roles to Richard Jenkins and Hiam Abbass. A character actor himself, McCarthy clearly loves working with actors, and crafts roles that seem perfectly suited for the people he casts. Giamatti is wonderful in the lead role and carries the film, but the entire cast is excellent. Amy Ryan in some ways has the typical supportive wife role, but it is deeper, more humane than most of others. Alex Shaffer is a find as Kyle, who perfectly captures the bitter, lonely, quiet yet overall lovable teenager he plays. Great supporting work is done by Jeffrey Tambor, as Mike’s assistant coach, Cannavale (in his best role since The Station Agent) as Mike’s best friend, and Melanie Lynsky (a personal favorite of mine) as Kyle’s mother – even if she is the most coherent and healthy drug addict I’ve ever seen in a movie. There are no throwaway roles here – they are all crafted with care, and McCarthy gets the best out of his actors.
I know Win Win is not exactly groundbreaking or original, but it is a film I couldn’t help loving. It is a film that sees clearly the difficulty to make ends meet in today’s world and yet remains a feel good story. The movie never gets bogged down or depressing, nor overly sentimental. It is a film that made me laugh quite a bit, smile almost constantly and as I walked out of the theater, I felt happy. It is one of those rare films that I feel I could recommend to just about anybody, and feel confident that they'd like it.