Cinema: Win Win
Writer: Thomas McCarthy, Joe Tiboni
Cast: Paul Giamatti, Alex Shaffer, Bobby Cannavale, Amy Ryan, Burt Young
Paul Giamatti has made a career out of playing a certain type of character, often misinterpreted, as he exploited wonderfully in Sophie Barthes‘ Cold Souls, as a variation of himself, the real him. Thomas McCarthy‘s Win Win sees the actor again in similar territory, playing a put upon everyman – father, husband, do-gooding lawyer – and it is a role he once again excels in.
Giamatti is Mike Flaherty, a lawyer with his own practice who has made a career defending those who needs his help, latterly mostly elderly people in the small, quiet New Jersey town he calls home. He has two daughters, loving wife Jackie (Amy Ryan), yet all is not as sweet as it would seem in his world. His legal practice is running on empty, the debts are adding up, the weight of his dependants resting impulsively on his shoulders, all of which forcing him to make an ill-advised decision to become guardian for one his clients, Leo Poplar (Burt Young) – at financial recompense, of course – before sending him packing into a nursing home.
A temporary solution, so he thought, but one that brings immediate fiscal relief yet further problematic occurrences, particularly in the shape of Terry (Bobby Cannavale), Leo’s bleach-blond and hitherto unbeknown, grandson, who has come arrived seeking solace from his mother, awol amidst problems of addiction. Mike takes him in, the impulsive teen proving exceptionally handy on the school’s wrestling team, yet relationships become increasingly complex when Terry’s mother returns to the fold.
McCarthy, one could say, is an expert in finding the comedy in the everyday, the truth of a situation, a relationship, and the potential for humour contained within, and as such Win Win is a wonderfully wry and well observed comedy about families, the lives we live, and the choices we make.
Giamatti’s impeccable comic timing, the awkward advice of his well meaning brother in the throes of a bitter divorce who joins as wrestling co-coach, and Jackie’s loyal support and steadfast absolutism in doing the right thing, McCarthy handsomely finding a tone that melds drama and comedy, desperation with optimism, yet never at the expense of either.
It is the nuances though, in his sharp and spiky script and in the superb performances across the board that make the film a cut above. Childlike grown ups and grown up children – Terry has a propensity for referring to all, classmates, adults alike, by their first name and that alone – McCarthy imbues the film with a grounding realism which accounts for its many remarkably poignant moments.
It is a testament to both the writing and the performances that the characters are all so endearing though while being so flawed also: Mike is the once proud moralist who, when backed into a corner by debt, sells his principles to make a buck; Terry the wounded teen who can inspire the wrestling team’s meekest members into men yet who displays violent outbursts when dealing with the mother that abandoned him. McCarthy though, casts a non-judgemental eye throughout.
Without resorting to clichéd conclusions either, the New Jersey filmmaker resolves the myriad problems in a way that is uplifting and yet believable, if a little short on event and heavy on understanding. This is but a minor quibble though for a film that is as easy to love as its title would suggest. A triumphant and heart-warming tale, full of heart and humour.
By Alasdair Morton.
Win Win is released 20th May courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox.