An independent comedy drama which deals with the trials (literally) and tribulations of the modern family. Sound familiar? Well, that’s because it is. Win Win isn’t trying to add anything new to what has now become a customary genre in film, particularly after Juno, nor will it be this Summer’s sleeper hit. If you can accept this, then there is a warm, profound story told complete with moral and social commentary.
Lethargic professional lawyer and occasional jogger Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) is a regular Joe leading an unfulfilling life of petty legal formalities and coaching the mediocre local high school wrestling team. Mike sees the chance of earning some extra cash by taking guardianship of the wealthy Leo Poplar (Burt Young), unbeknown to the fact that his grandson Kyle (screen debut of Alex Schaffer) has come to live with him. Kyle ends up living in Mike’s home, his place as an outsider to the family gradually becoming blurred. Mike soon discovers that Kyle is a prodigy wrestling champion, exactly what the floundering high school team needs. However, complications arise when Kyle’s recently rehabilitated mother comes to town looking to take him home…
Writer/director Thomas McCarthy, a veteran in the indie dramedy genre, produces a collection of fine performances, most impressively led by Paul Giamatti, but they only go as far as the script can take them. At the very least, Win Win’s Achilles Heel is a finely crafted, well written one, but the weight of the typewriter is too much. Dialogue is overused to express thought and emotion, giving little room for the character’s actions, or indeed lack of actions, to stimulate the audience’s interpretation of body language. Nonetheless, Giamatti proves to be as good as (in my opinion, better) than his previous supporting roles and the teenage angst from Cannavale doesn’t feel fake or over the top, but all very real.
To be good at high school wrestling, you have to be truly committed and ‘do whatever the fuck it takes’ to pin the other guy. In a sense, Win Win is a film about a troubled teenage wrestler running away from one problem to the next, but always remaining a talented athlete – in fact, wrestling gives Terry his only smile in the film. But it is also deals with the effects of the credit crunch on the suburban American family, which is a constant subtle undertone to the story. We realise that, in fact, Win Win could not be made in any other period of history without losing some of that oh – so sought after indie warmth.
Conceptually, Win Win is nothing we haven’t seen before. But the performances, particularly Giamatti’s, and the natural charm of the story makes Win Win worth a watch.