Directed by: Tom McCarthy
Written by: Tom McCarthy and Joe Tiboni
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale, Jeffrey Tambor, Alex Schaffer, Burt Young, and Melanie Lynskey
From his first noticeable role as “Pig Vomit” in Howard Stern’s PRIVATE PARTS to his Oscar nominated role in SIDEWAYS, Paul Giamatti has parlayed his talent into quite a career of playing the schlubby, dumped on male. Giamatti has a knack for playing unlikable characters that the audience still continues to root for and be devoted to. Such is the case for WIN WIN.
Giamatti plays Mike Flaherty, a small town elder attorney who moonlights as a high school wrestling coach. Mike is struggling to keep both his law practice and team afloat. Bills need to be paid, clients are few and far between, and the very symbolic boiler in the building is on the verge of blowing. After an exhaustive search trying to find a client’s missing daughter, a desperate Mike concocts a scheme: If he agrees to be the guardian of Leo Poplar (Burt Young), who is in the early stages of dementia, he can receive a $1500 monthly check. Mike convinces the court he can watch over a homebound Leo better than a old folks home can – but checks Leo into a senior care facility anyway, going against the court ruling. He also doesn’t tell his wife Jackie (Amy Ryan) and family the whole truth.
Just a few nights into his guardianship, Mike discovers Leo’s estranged grandson Kyle (Alex Schaffer) waiting outside his grandfather’s house and takes him in. He soon discovers Kyle was a wrestling star in his home state, and would be a fantastic asset to the team. This makes Mike, his assistant coach (Jeffrey Tambor) and his hedge fund best friend (played by McCarthy film veteran Bobby Cannavale) incredibly happy. Could this be the win-win situation of the title? It is until Kyle’s mom Cindy (Melanie Lynskey) shows up and wants to reclaim both Kyle and Leo.
WIN WIN never has a false moment. At the heart of the story are good people making bad decisions in tough times, which is such a relatable topic in this day and age. Director Tom McCarthy (THE STATION AGENT and THE VISITOR) is famous for writing films that share a common theme – the family that we choose vs. the family that we are born into. Yes, there are flawed characters in this but as Jackie says to Kyle after showing him her ill-conceived Bon Jovi tattoo, life is about how you handle things after your bad choices are made.
As if Giamatti wasn’t enough, WIN WIN hits the jackpot with the rest of its cast as well. Ryan, Cannavale and Tambor all bring home wonderful performances as their slice-of-life characters. Of special note are the talents of Melanie Lynskey and Alex Schaffer. The script sets Lynskey’s role up so that you’ll hate her but when she finally makes an appearance to claim her son, you can’t help but feel bad for her. With the role of Kyle, McCarthy was looking for a wrestler who could act and not the other way around. Shaffer displays a genuinely raw and a slightly awkward tinged performance. McCarthy gets a fantastic performance out of the newcomer, who holds his own in the company of his more accomplished costars.
McCarthy and Tiboni’s story is showcased more than the technical direction of this piece. The film doesn’t have the stereotypical Hollywood ending you would expect it to have, and it excels on all levels – which means you can’t lose with WIN WIN.
4.5 out of 5