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Published on May 24th, 2011 | by Sue Murphy


Movie Review: Win Win

Director: Thomas McCarthy

Cast: Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale, Alex Shaffer, Burt Young

Every now and then, a little unassuming film will come from left of field and entirely bowl you over and although Win Win is certainly making an impact on the festival circuit and is achieving critical acclaim in the States, it certainly will not have the same drive behind it as the summer blockbusters hitting our screens.  Sometimes, this is all for the better because when you leave the screen as the credits roll, you will feel like you have discovered the diamond in the rough.  Think Little Miss Sunshine and you are on the right path.

Mike Flaherty (Giamatti), a dispirited lawyer, leads a mediocre life in New Jersey, providing for his family and working part time as a wrestling coach for the local kids.  Barely surviving on his small business, Mike discovers that the commission for becoming the guardian of one of his elderly clients would dig him out of a financial hole.  His client, Leo (Young) wants to remain living at home and without the input of his estranged daughter, Mike promises the judge that he can make this happen.    Events go on as he planned until the arrival of Leo’s grandson Kyle (Shaffer), who Mike and Jackie feel obliged to take in until they can find his mother.  Unexpectedly, the pair bond with the teenager on discovering that Kyle was a star wrestling champion at his previous school.  When his reckless mother does finally make an appearance, Mike must make some difficult decisions.

Everything, and I mean everything, about Win Win is absolutely pitch perfect.  Thomas McCarthy, following recent successes The Visitor and The Station Agent, has turned a simple story into cinematic gold.  Allowing you to take time to get to know the characters, he sets the back story up perfectly, depicting every aspect of Mike’s monotonous days; fixing the toilet in his office, dealing with ridiculous client problems and coming home to a wife who continues to nag him about cutting down a tree.  The fact that Mike has internalized his financial problems to the detriment of his health merely endears the character more to the audience, he would do anything for his family and his motivations for his actions are completely understandable.  Giamatti, as always the perfect guy next door will completely win you over and Ryan will evoke admiration with her ability to always do the right thing.  Giving credence to the term “good people”, Mike and Jackie openly welcome Kyle into their home, but more importantly, they welcome Kyle exactly how he is, faults and all.  Shaffer is stunning as the troubled teenager, motivating his fellow team members and giving Mike new hope and an exit strategy for his tension.  The relationships onscreen are heart-warming, and Kyle’s genuine good nature rubs off on everybody.

There is a rare occasion when you are leaving the cinema and feel the need to go back and hug the screen and this would be one of those occasions.  It proves to Hollywood what every writer and actor across this planet firmly believes, you can have all the special effects and 3D you want, but nothing beats a good story with some great acting.


Win Win

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