Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) is a nice guy. He is a lawyer with a struggling practice. He is intent on supporting his wife (Amy Ryan) and kids, encouraging his high school wrestling team (they just can’t seem to win a single game), listening to his best friend Terry (Bobby Cannavale) talk about his recent divorce, and protecting the interests of his clients (he doesn’t even have that many). Money is tight, and he is desperate. So when a paid opportunity to be the guardian of Leo (Burt Young) presents itself, he steps on it. Leo is a retiree who is in the early stages of dementia. He plans it out, and it seems simple enough. He will take the money but put Leo in a home. Leo still wants to remain at home though. Then one day Leo’s teenage grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer) shows up on his grandpa’s doorstep. This adds more responsibility to Mike’s already weary shoulders. It turns out though that Kyle is a championship wrestler, so he joins Mike’s team. Things get even more complicated however when the boys drug addicted mother comes to get him.
Can anyone play just an ordinary guy better than Paul Giamatti? I don’t think so. Giamatti knows how to play characters in conflict not only with their life but with themselves. He excels at that, and here he gives another great performance. Amy Ryan is simply wonderful. She is just as good here as she was playing the drug addicted mother in “Gone Baby Gone”. Bobby Cannavale is great too, he is really funny, this is one of his best performances in a long time. Jeffrey Tambor and Melanie Lynskey are very good in their supporting roles as well. Alex Shaffer was really only brought on to do this movie because he knew how to wrestle. He does a great job on the wrestling parts, but it tuns out he can act as well. He holds his own among this great and experienced cast. I look forward to seeing what roles he takes on in the future. Everyone is great here.
What the movie does so well is give everything a realistic feel. All the characters are relatable in some way or another. You go through all the emotions they go through, and you route for them. The movie doesn’t try to become something it’s not, this means every singler scene is useful in some way. This movie could have failed easily. It could have gone for far too much emotion in the sports part of the movie and make it too melodramatic. But it doesn’t, instead everything plays out as it would in the real world. All of this is thanks to the director and screenwriter. The dialog is excellent because of how simple it can be. Everything that is said is believable and understandable giving the circumstances. This is also another great movie that blends drama and humor extremely well (“50/50” being another movie this year that did that).
Another nice thing is that very few movies would put in little scenes here and there just for the sake of putting two characters together and watching them go about day to day things. It doesn’t really advance the narrative, but it gives everything a human touch. Some of the things that go on can be called predictable, but the movie seems so honest, that the word formula never crosses your mind in the least. The hardest thing to capture on the big screen is authenticity, but “Win Win” manges to pull it off perfectly.
It was a relief to watch this movie after watching some movies that just feel hurried. Usually in the first ten minutes you get a good feel of everything that is going on, but not here. It starts out pretty slow, theirs not much of a path that there following. The way it actually tells the story is great, it lets it unfold with great care. Like I have said, this plays out like real life.
Writer Director Thomas McCarthy really propels this movie into the greatness it reaches. Another person probably would have made this yet another generic sports drama. Sometimes the movie’s title will say it all. This is the case with this one, “Win Win” completely wins you over. It earns it’s title. The movie is smart, feels very real, has great performances, and blends drama and humor. If there are any flaws to be found here, It’s the ending and something missing. The ending rapped up a little too neat. It was also missing a little punch to get this movie to be perfect. Still, I found myself engaged in everything going on for the most part. I am glad I saw this movie, I almost passed on it. I can also see myself watching this again sometime. If anyone has missed this gem of a movie, go see it right away, you won’t be disappointed.