By: Oberst von Berauscht (Two Beers) –
Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) is a small town attorney down on his luck. His clients are thinning out, upkeep at his office has been getting expensive, and the High School wrestling team he’s coaching is having a losing season. He also has been court-appointed to represent Leo Poplar (Burt Young), a man suffering from the early stages of dementia, in a case to determine his ability to live on his own. Knowing that Leo is well off financially, and in a moment of personal weakness, Mike takes Leo on as a guardian, but puts him in a nursing home against his will.
Shortly after this, a teenage boy appears at Leo’s home. He is Kyle, (Alex Shaffer) son of Leo’s estranged daughter. Kyle ran away from his home in Ohio to escape years of neglect and abuse. Mike takes Kyle in, initially on a temporary basis, but between Kyle’s talent at wrestling and his earnest nature the Flahertys become attached to him.
Win Win is a solid comedy/drama from writer/director Thomas McCarthy (The Visitor, The Station Agent). While the story is not anything that you haven’t seen before, the honesty of the film distinguishes it. These are not characters so much as people you’ve probably met at some point in time. Teenage actor Alex Shaffer in particular is fascinating as Kyle. It would be too easy to play Kyle as the teen rebel who is allowed to be a dick because his parent hates him.
We’ve thankfully moved past this stupid cliché
Kyle is certainly troubled, but he is also a sensitive and caring person. He has taken abuse, but clearly doesn’t feel the need to make other people’s lives miserable as a result. Paul Giamatti is wonderful to watch as well; his uncertainty about the future and his personal weaknesses serves as a foil to Kyle’s personal strength. In many ways Kyle is the more adult of the two. Burt Young is also very good as Leo; his depiction of a man suffering from dementia being one of the most accurate that I’ve seen in recent film. It is a sad affliction to observe, as recognizable traits of the person you know are slowly stripped from their conscious self until they seem to function on autopilot. The movie also features hilarious turns by Bobby Cannavale and Jeffrey Tambor, who play Mike’s coworkers and closest friends.
The movie also makes a small but meaningful impression in its depiction of the economic recession. It is made clear that Mike’s financial situation isn’t unusual, but his decision to get by on less than honorable means creates a rift in his personal and professional life. It is only at the film’s end that you see him hold himself accountable for his problem and addresses it in a more realistic fashion… Hmm, that sounds like a subtle message doesn’t it?
Politicians: shirking responsibility since 1789
I have only one nitpick about the movie, and that is in the story arc involving Mike’s deception. It is an all too common Hollywood cliché that the liar is found out, and after a period of self discovery, comes to see the error of his ways and reconciles. For a film that is otherwise very unique, it is a very predictable plot twist. That said, it isn’t something that destroys the movie, so don’t let it get in the way.
Honest, funny, and immensely satisfying
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a drink: when the wrestling team loses
Take a drink: when the boiler wails like a banshee out of hell
Down a shot: when Leo forgets something