|He's still shocked he did Shoot 'Em Up.|
Movies like Win Win don't really have a purpose. Movies don't need a purpose, in general, but Win Win also doesn't have a point. It is what it is, and it's there, so we have to accept that. Thomas McCarthy usually makes films with points; strong character pieces like The Station Agent and The Visitor. I think the point here might have been about winning, but... maybe I'm just over-thinking everything. Win Win is more of a loss/profit. Really, there isn't anything wrong with the film Sure, some of the performances are a bit... loose, but mainly everything falls in to place. The problem with the film is that everything falls into place too neatly toward the end. For such a weird story, it needn't be this straightforward.
Mike (Paul Giamatti) is a lawyer. He's not a very good one, either. He has his heart in the right place, but like most people, he lets pride and cold hard cash motivate an extremely important decision - an old man named Leo (Burt Young, just as good as ever) is suffering from dementia and needs to be put in a rest home. But, his estate is offering $1,500 a month to whomever assumes guardianship. Mike, needing the money (sorely, as he can't even afford to have the water boiler fixed in his office), assumes guardianship of Leo, in front of a judge, but sticks him in a rest home anyway. So, really, he's the guardian of that $1,500. Must be nice, right? No. It isn't. Because Mike is also a volunteer wrestling coach at a local high school. He and his assistant Stephen (Jeffrey Tambor), who also works with Mike at the law firm, aren't doing too well at this, either. Their team hasn't won anything important in a long while.
That is, of course, until the film truly starts - Leo's grandson, thought to not even exist, Kyle (Alex Schaffer) runs away from home and his druggie mother Cindy (Melanie Lynskey) who's stuck in rehab and comes to live with his grandfather. Of course, he can't, because he's in a home. Mike and his wife Jackie (Amy Ryan) take him in, while figuring out what to do. Jackie has no idea that Mike is essentially grifting money from Leo's estate, but he doesn't have time to think about that right now. Why? Because Kyle is the best wrestler he's seen in years. The kid is a natural, and Mike knows it immediately. They start winning, and things start looking up. Until Kyle's mother comes to get him.
It's important to note that the film has a bit of a middling feeling to it. Thomas McCarthy's films have a common theme among them - lives getting put to an almost dead stop by other lives. Such is so in the real world. You might not walk in to your apartment one day to find a young African couple squatting in it, nor might you make friends with a dwarf who is obsessed with trains. But, you might know someone who has. Or you yourself might wind up taking in a runaway trying to better himself and escape the bad life at home. The characters in Win Win feel a lot like people we might know. And their conversations certainly flow like ones we've probably had. Subtle jabs at your best friend, meaningless bickering with a loved one; it's a very natural screenplay despite the odd story. I realize I've contradicted myself. Allow me to explain: Win Win has a weird story, but it is something plausible. It's something of a "win win" itself - there's enough circumstance to ground the pomp, so to speak.
I like Paul Giamatti in these roles. Truth be told, I like Paul Giamatti in anything. But, this type of character suits him best. And his work here is up there with his work in Sideways and Cinderella Man as the best of his career. It's unfortunate that he might not get the proper attention he deserves when the awards season rolls around toward January, but such is nature of the beast. The rest of the cast seem to be overshadowed by Giamatti's work, though each is fine on their own. Jeffrey Tambor is always amusing, especially in his coaching scenes; Amy Ryan does equally good work as Jackie, the loving but tired wife who "wants to punch Kyle's mother". Alex Schaffer is something of a special case, though - he's not a very strong actor, but he has the required intense physical presence. He balances himself out. Bobby Cannavale plays Mike's best friend, but the role doesn't serve his generous talent. The star, per usual, of the supporting cast is Melanie Lynskey. She's every bit as good as Giamatti, and in far less time on screen. Their scenes together are perfect.
When the film ends, you might be left with an odd aftertaste. The beginning of the film displays very quick and sarcastic dialogue, with plenty of funny reactionary moments from the cast. It feels like a stage play, in that respect. And it sets itself up to be more comedic than it actually is. There are shifts of tone, but none too jarring. It didn't take me out of the movie, and I expect it might not take you out, either. But, there you are. And toward the final third of the film, it feels a bit more like a sports movie than maybe it should. I don't know if that's what McCarthy was going for, but I don't think so; The Visitor never felt like a movie about immigration. What Win Win does feel like is a movie about "whatever the f*** it takes", so eloquently says Kyle after a big match. There's a little bit of something for everyone - comedy, drama, sports... it's a win win.