¨I wanna go to Ohio and beat the crap out of his mom. ¨
Thomas McCarthy has once again directed a successful family drama (slash comedy, slash sport film) that will be remembered for its heartwarming characters. McCarthy has a tendency for writing and directing these kind of movies with memorable, yet ordinary characters who aren`t perfect, but have something special about them in some way or another. He did it in his previous films with The Station Agent and The Visitors where we have very silent characters with flaws, but who discover something good about themselves through the new and unconventional relations they make. I would say that the heart of his films don’t rely so much on the characters that he introduces, but in the interactions between them, and that is why the story and characters flourish in his stories. Win Win is no exception and perhaps this is an even improved film over its predecessors because we have much more different interactions between the characters, and you can even include the sport element that makes this movie all that more attractive. Of course McCarthy can`t make a good film if he doesn’t have a good cast because the heart of his films revolve around these characters and how they interact with each other. In Win Win he has just that: an excellent cast, beginning with a superb leading performance from Paul Giamatti, and a great supporting cast which include the always reliable Amy Ryan, Jeffrey Tambor, Bobby Cannavale, Melanie Lynskey, and Burt Young, plus a memorable performance from newcomer Alex Shaffer who is the heart and motor of the story. I really didn’t get that much into the story until he showed up, and he really changes the pace and momentum of the movie once his character is introduced some fifteen minutes into the film. The mystery about his past and the way he interacts with Giamatti and Ryan are the soul of this drama, while Cannavale and Tambor`s performance work more as the comedic relief.
Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) is a lawyer and father of two young daughters living with his wife Jackie (Amy Ryan) in a New Jersey suberb. Mike is trying to survive in his private practice, but has been experiencing some financial difficulties which have been putting him through some anxiety attacks. He also works as a High School wrestling coach during his free time since he once used to be a decent wrestler himself. He trains the kids along with his assistant Stephen (Jeffrey Tambor), who also shares an office with him in his practice. Due to his attacks the doctor has recommended Mike to run every morning so he does so alone or along his longtime high school buddy Terry (Bobby Cannavale). An opportunity presents itself for Mike to make easy money with a client of his named Leo (Burt Young). Leo is old and suffering from dementia, but since his daughter can`t be reached he is on his own and the State is worried about his wellbeing. Leo has plenty of money, but doesn’t have anyone to take care of him, so Mike decides to become his legal guardian. He does it for the money since the guardian will receive 1500 dollars a month, but sends him to a house care facility once he becomes the guardian. One day an unexpected visitor shows up at Leo`s house: his grandson, Kyle (Alex Shaffer) and Mike takes him to visit his grandfather. Kyle is a quiet kid who has run away from his home. Mike and Jackie take the kid in for a few days and they discover he has a great talent: he is a wrestler, so Mike signs him up with his team and believes he has received a double blessing with this whole Leo situation. The problem ensues when Kyle`s mother shows up in town and Mike`s past begins to haunt him.
I warn you don’t give up on this movie due to its very slow start because it`s worth the wait. The movie really doesn’t reach full gear until about twenty minutes into the film when Kyle shows up. McCarthy`s films tend to suffer from this slow opening because it takes time to set up the characters in the way he does. These characters are all really well developed and not even the secondary characters are one dimensional so it does take some time to set up the characters and situations, but once that is dealt with and we begin seeing these characters interact with each other the movie does pay off and pick off in an extraordinary fashion. Who would`ve thought wrestling could be so interesting? McCarthy really makes it so, but does it by leaving it as a side plot and not focusing entirely on the sport. The relationship between Giamatti and Shaffer are essentially the heart of this story and winning or losing becomes something secondary like it is in real life. It`s this inner conflict that Giamatti has to deal with and the way he relates and begins to identify with the boy that make this such a fascinating and heartwarming film. McCarthy never tries to play with our emotions, and every single scene feels authentic and real. We are dealing with real characters, who aren`t perfect and perhaps may have done some stupid or unethical things, but they try to search for some sort of redemption in order to find forgiveness. This is truly one of McCarthy`s best films to date and a wonderful small movie you will want to see.