Win Win Movie Review
Win Win is precisely the type of American indie dramedy that can only be classified as a “Sundance movie.” Sure, we see quite a few of these films each year (especially if you make the annual January trip to Utah), but writer/director Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent, The Visitor) delivers the goods with an example of the finest the “Sundance” genre has to offer. It’s a sweet, funny, offbeat, touching, and perfectly cast portrait of a non-traditional American family that never feels forced.
Paul Giamatti stars as Mike Flaherty, a small-time lawyer who moonlights as a high-school wrestling coach. In the opening shot we see Mike jogging through the park when two runners pass him like he’s tied to a tree. These runners might as well have symbolized his finances and career, both of which are getting the best of him these days.
But when the teenage grandson of one of his clients (the hilarious Burt Young, who you probably know as Paulie from the Rocky movies) shows up without notice, the Flaherty family has no choice but to take him in as his mother is in a clinic and can’t be reached.
This kid is Kyle Timmons, played by a great find named Alex Shaffer in his acting debut. He’s independent beyond his years, which tells you he has probably been fending for himself for quite some time. He also happens to be an incredible wrestler, though ridiculously understated — he’s the kind of kid that says “ok” in response to just about any question or request. When Mike first asks him how good he is at wrestling, he responds “I’m pretty good.”
Shaffer is a real-life high school wrestler, which helps explain why the wrestling scenes look so natural. He wrapped up his sophomore season as an undefeated New Jersey state champion just before filming began and has been quoted as saying he wouldn’t have done the movie, even for $500,000, if filming took place during wrestling season.
We don’t know a lot about Kyle’s mother (Up in the Air‘s Melanie Lynskey), as he doesn’t talk about her much. She’s an invisible villain of sorts. That is, until she shows up later in the film and gives us a slew of new reasons to hate her. Amy Ryan, who plays Mike’s wife, incessantly calls her a “druggie.” That’s pretty mild on the spectrum of words I’d use to describe her. Ryan shows off her versatility as a loving and protective mother — in other words, the polar opposite of her Gone Baby Gone character.
Bobby Cannavale and Jeffery Tambor (“Arrested Development”) are fantastic in “comic relief” type roles as Mike’s friends and assistant coaches, but even these characters are fully drawn and have their own little arcs. The great things they help Kyle achieve serve as an escape from the major issues they deal with in their personal lives.
Things get a tad melodramatic near the film’s climax before ending on a pitch-perfect note that has Mike learning that no job is beneath you if that’s what it takes to make ends meet for your family. Even if you’re an attorney.
Win Win hits select theaters on March 18, so don’t miss it.