Movie Review: Win Win
- Written by Dave Lauer
- April 28, 2011
Director: Thomas McCarthy
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Alex Shaffer, Amy Ryan
In Win Win, Paul Giamatti stars as a muscular, handsome man who’s always happy and never grouchy because his life is completely fulfilling. Oh no, wait, I got that wrong. Giamatti actually plays the same guy he usually plays: a prickly schlub who, for some reason or another, is currently living a life he doesn’t enjoy.
This time around, Giamatti is Mike Flaherty, a struggling lawyer in New Jersey who spends his nights co-coaching a failing high school wrestling team. His problems stem from an inability to keep his wife (Amy Ryan), children, or even himself happy. Please, oh, please, God of Giamatti Characters, won’t you bless Mr. Giamatti with yet another life-changing event that will snap him out of this depressing funk?!
Fortunately the God of Giamatti Characters is a kind god and usually delivers a solid distraction to fix Giamatti’s unfulfilling life. In comes Kyle (Alex Shaffer) a high schooler who ends up in Giamatti’s care due to some dishonest lawyering Giamatti did to one of his older clients. Kyle’s a quiet kid with a troubled past who also happens to be an amazing wrestler, so it’s a no brainer that Giamatti uses him to improve his wrestling team. But do Giamatti’s selfish actions eventually transform into feelings of true care? Yes, duh.
I think at some point writer-director Thomas McCarthy must’ve had some unexpected person drop into his life and change it for the better. I say this because McCarthy seems to know a lot about the subject as he also directed 2008’s The Visitor, a film starring Richard Jenkins as a sad, unfulfilled man whose life turns around when two illegal immigrants are introduced in his life. Hmm, sounds pretty similar.
Of course, the premises of The Visitor and Win Win aren’t exactly the same, and even if they are, it’s a good premise. But because they have similar ideas, both fall into similar traps: pretty much as soon as the unexpected person shows up (Kyle for this movie) you know where things are going. It’s a common trope; the new person will start off as a burden or nuisance, but eventually turn into a close friend. In The Visitor, the predictability was reduced because the plot was much more serious and emotional, but in Win Win, events were all the more predicable because the tone was lighter and more quirky.
But clichés can work when the other pieces of the film work as well, and things mostly do here. For seemingly just playing himself, Giamatti always gets good performances out of his go-to crabby guy. Somehow the balder and pudgier he gets, the sweeter a guy he can be. And him and Alex Shaffer work well together. I also liked seeing Amy Ryan as the wife of Giamatti. It’s nice to remember that she’s a good actress and not just a goofy character on The Office or a driven novice from The Wire.
But probably the best thing Win Win has going for it is its ability to be honest yet still funny. There are a lot of times when I don’t feel like seeing a movie too depressing or dramatic; I don’t like to be reminded of how much life can suck. And even though Win Win reminded me of this a lot, it balanced itself out with a lot of moments that made me smile. Bless you, God of Giamatti Characters. Tonight, I will sacrifice a copy of Sideways on Blu-ray in your honor.