Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Alex Shaffer, Bobby Cannavale, Jeffrey Tambor, Burt Young
Abby: Mommy, where’s daddy?
Jackie: He’s running.
Abby: …from what?
Mike (Giamatti) is a lawyer with a struggling practice and a family to support. When he sees the opportunity to make some money being the guardian of one of his elderly clients, Leo (Young), suffering from dementia, he takes it, despite the questionable ethics involved. When Leo’s grandson, Kyle (Shaffer), shows up, having run away from his home in Ohio, Mike and his wife Jackie (Ryan) let him stay with them. As Kyle tries to make a fresh start in a new place, his past, and Mike’s decisions, might derail those plans.
I had the chance to catch this one this weekend at one of Florida State’s Seven Days of Opening Nights events. Geoffrey Gilmore has brought a film from Sundance each of the last 4 years and shown it long before its release. First it was The Visitor, then 500 Days of Summer, followed by Blue Valentine, and now Win Win.
This is the second movie of those 4 directed by Tom McCarthy. He’s got quite a good track record going as a director, with The Station Agent, The Visitor, and now Win Win on his résumé. While those previous two were a little more unstructured, this movie is a bit more formulaic and actually somewhat predictable. But hey, when it’s done well, formulaic and predictable can be overcome, and that’s what happens here.
Win Win does not take many turns that I didn’t see coming from a mile away, but when there are great performances, good writing, and likable characters, a little predictability can be forgiven. I mean, everybody enjoys a good Paul Giamatti performance, right? Then you’ve got Amy Ryan (best known to me as Holly on The Office), Bobby Cannavale (as funny and likable as he was in The Station Agent), and Jeffrey Tambor (though he’ll always be George Bluth to me). Melanie Lynskey, as Kyle’s troubled mother Cindy, isn’t playing her usual sweet character, but she’s a hard actor to dislike, so I think viewers will probably be a little torn as to how to feel about her. I’m guessing that’s why Lynskey was chosen for the part. She doesn’t enter the film for a while, which gives the audience time to build up a lot of hate having just heard about her actions. But then when she shows up you kind of want to say, “awww, poor thing.” Basically the audience takes the same emotional journey, in regards to Cindy, that Jackie takes.
Alex Shaffer, as Kyle, makes his acting debut in this movie, and while in the more emotional scenes it showed a bit, he definitely has the whole disaffected teen thing down pat. It’s probably a good idea to give a novice actor a role where they get to mumble phrases like “whatever”, “sure”, and “I guess” a whole lot. It’s a good first role, and he does just fine with it.
As I mentioned, you won’t find very much new territory covered in this story. What you will find, though, is questions raised that might make you consider: what’s most important in my life? In what situations do the ends justify the means? How are my decisions and behavior affecting those around me?
Plus, you’ll get a lot of funny moments and good performances. Giamatti is the man, and the pairing of him and Cannavale works very well. Amy Ryan seems to be still TV acting a little bit here and there, but not to a distracting degree. She gets plenty of funny and sort of touching moments throughout.
Oh, and did I mention there’s a lot of high school wrestling in this too…?
I can’t say I liked Win Win as much as The Station Agent, but it’s close, and I will definitely be keeping an eye out for whatever movies Tom McCarthy decides to make in the future. Hopefully he keeps them coming…whatever the f*** it takes! (Go see the movie, that’ll make sense.)
Don’t take advantage of people with dementia. That’s generally frowned upon.
10 – 2.1 because it is a little too formulaic and predictable = 7.9