Now I’m sure my next statement has been said many many times and may be the most obvious and cliché thing to attach to this movie, but I don’t care; Win Win is a win. Thomas McCarthy’s latest effort is a fantastic movie and so far my favorite movie this year. I was definitely unsure if I wanted to see it but am happy I did see it.
Win Win is about Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) who is an attorney at his own practice and is also a high school wrestling coach whose wrestling team is terrible. He takes a case in which he says he will take care of an elderly man named Leo (Burt Young) to make extra money. But then things get weird when his grandson Kyle (Newcomer Alex Shaffer) shows up at his house doorstep. With nowhere else to go Mike and his caring wife (Amy Ryan) take the boy in, at least for awhile. But then something spectacular happens; Kyle is an amazing wrestler. Than everything seems nice and order until Kyle’s mom (Melanie Lynskey) comes into play.
The plot at a read may sound complicated and intricate but when watching it, it really isn’t. Win Win isn’t anything special in plot but its writing overall, acting, directing, and really good nature is what makes it excel.
The movie was directed by Thomas McCarthy who has only made two other movies, The Station Agent (2003, and The Visitor (2007). Now I have not seen either of those movies but I plan to see them very soon after this. Something about McCarthy’s movie is just right (he also wrote Win Win), there really seems to be nothing special about it, but when watching it I was mesmerized, engaged, and in love. His skills behind the camera are undeniable though. Sure it takes the tone of most indie movies nowadays (and I mean the genre, not independently made (yes, sadly there is a difference)) but I didn’t mind when usually I would. It had a feel similar to Little Miss Sunshine (2006), one of my all time favorites, yet it still felt new and refreshing. McCarthy though left his movie in the hands of the actor and writing and didn’t seem to focus too much on camera, which is in no way a bad thing. This is an impressively made movie nonetheless and McCarthy was a perfect director.
The acting in this movie is phenomenal all around. Now Giamatti is the lead, and is a very good lead, and a very underrated actor, but this is not his best performance. Over the years he’s been doing more and more movies and he is an incredible actor. Here he leads the movie on and does have a few powerfully acted scenes, but it seemed like he was going for an Oscar in those scenes, so they could be considered good or bad. But the subtleness throughout is what makes this another good performance from Giamatti. He deserves an Oscar, not necessarily from this movie, but eventually this man must receive one.
The star of this show though is Alex Shaffer, a newcomer who was a wrestler turned actor? His character Kyle is all about the subtle, and he plays it perfect. He is pinpoints the realism of teenagers like this and plays it to a tee. Amy Ryan is also very good as Giamatti’s wife. She seems to be a minor role while watching but upon reflection she does have a big and important part. Her best came from Gone Baby Gone (2007), which she was nominated for an Oscar, and here she gives in another great performance as a mother who cares. The scene stealer though is Bobby Cannavale who’s character, Terry, is Giamatti’s assistant coach. I am somewhat indifferent to his character. In one sense it’s the funniest part of the movie and provides great laughs, but in the other he seems very out of place and seems to only be there for laughs, no exact contribution to the story at all. Nonetheless he is very entertaining to watch and this is the first movie of his I’ve seen, I will be looking out for him in the future.
I also can’t go without mentioning great performances from Jeffery Tambour (another assistant coach), Burt Young (Kyle’s grandfather, who Mike is taking care of (though not a difficult performance)), Melanie Lynskey (Kyle’s crazy mom), and David W. Thompson (a terrible wrestler on the team). All there performances, like the rest of the cast, are subtle, aside from Melanie’s who is the best of this grouping. If anyone should have a shot at an award it should be her for Best Supporting Actress. This character has been played in movies before but regardless she does a great job; the mother who wants her son back, and has a problem (her happens to be drugs). This is on par with Meryl Streep’s in Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979) (but I think that is one of her lesser performances).
The screenplay was also written by Thomas McCarthy, who also wrote his other two movies and received an Oscar nomination for co-writing Disney’s Up (2009). Thomas seems to be a very talented writer but you can tell he is heavily influenced by other movies. Such as the feel to it, and also the dry sense of humor mixed with compelling drama, and weird character’s (a trend I personally believe Wes Anderson started). I can also say that the end of the movie was reminiscent of another one of my favorites but I won’t spoil it, and it left me with a sour taste in my mouth, but other than that, this script is fantastic. I like all those formulas and they pull it off well here too.
Overall Win Win is a great movie that I can easily recommend to all. The acting, directing, and story are all magnificent (especially the acting). It sounds weird when talking about it and it is a hard movie to critique because I feel much different now than I did while actually watching it. There is something mystifying about it that captures you while you watch it. This is a great movie and the best so far this year.