Thursday, April 7, 2011

Win Win

Thomas McCarthy is a writer/director who specializes in making films about people coming out of their shells and getting in touch with their humanity: In The Station Agent a shy midget is befriended by two strangers. In The Visitor a closed off professor finds people squatting in his NYC apartment, who in turn help him come to terms with things. Now, with Win Win we have the story of an attorney with a shaky law practice who is having trouble making ends meet. When he finds out that one of his wealthy clients offers $1500 a month to anyone acting as guardian, he engages in an unethical act and takes him on as his ward. Then one day, the client's grandson shows up on the front door whom the attorney decides to temporarily take in and what do you know it, the kid happens to be a first class wrestler, just what her needs for the pathetic team he coaches and to help him maybe find a little joy in his life. Win Win has the warmth and likability of his other film due in large part to his cast: Paul Giamatti stars and has become one of our finest and most expressive actors. Amy Adams is another gem and does more good work here as his wife. Jeffrey Tambor and Bobby Cannavale (who was also wonderful in The Station Agent) provide some nice laughs as the assistant coaches. Wrestling for a rag tag team in high school, I appreciated watching a similar team here and the scenes were presented by people who were actually familiar with the sport. Back to the film, I was surprised in that it didn't go the way I thought it would, yet it still seemed overlong and when the high dramatics start to fly in the latter stages, it lacks effectiveness. Still this is a warm and funny film and a nice way to spend a couple of hours.

Bratenahl Lamplighter May Review Mike is a middle aged attorney in New Jersey with a struggling law practice where he can’t even afford to fix the broken water heater. He has two young daughters and home and doesn’t want to upset his worrisome wife. Then one day in court, before handing over one of his elderly client’s guardianship to the state, he precipitately decides to take responsibility for the old man, knowing the estate will pay him $1500 a month. Instead of taking the man home and looking after him, he places him in a respectable nursing home which the estate pays for. Not exactly a moral or ethical move. Then one day, the man’s grandson shows up and due to complications that prevent Mike from sending him home, they take the boy in. Wouldn’t you know it, the kid is an ace wrestler, just the thing Mike needs to help the hopeless team he coaches and maybe reawaken himself to his life.
            Win Win is a reaffirming yet not overly sentimental film from writer/director Thomas McCarthy who specializes in these kind of films that revolve around closed off lead characters who begin to open up through the kindness of strangers. In The Station Agent, Peter Dinklage played a reclusive dwarf who came out of his shell with the aid of a local vendor and a divorced woman. In The Visitor, Richard Jenkins was a lonely professor who went to stay at his little used apartment in New York City to found illegal immigrants squatting there, who in turn help him find himself. Now, we have Paul Giammati playing a man who rediscovers his passion thanks to the help of a young teenager. These kinds of stories hold a general appeal, and McCarthy knows how to handle them.
            Paul Giammati doesn’t have the look of a movie star, but when audiences started taking notice of even about ten years ago in films like American Splendor and Sideways, I think it was exactly that everyman quality that people responded to. Since he has evolved into one of our treasured actors, bringing humanity and believability to his roles, and this film is no different. His Mike seems like someone we know or maybe even ourselves, and has us rooting for him. Amy Adams, who came to viewer’s attention in Gone Baby Gone as a virulent racist, has since endeared herself in subsequent roles and does her best here with an underwritten part as Mike’s wife. Bobby Cannavale (who was also great in The Station Agent) and Jeffrey Tambor provide hearty laughs as Mike’s assistant coaches.
            On a personal level, coming from someone who also wrestled for a ragtag team, Win Win is a film that demonstrates its knowledge of the sport, and that helped me appreciate it more. The film did seem overlong and when the high dramatics start to fly in the latter stages, it started to lack effectiveness. Still, Win Win is warm and funny and did not always go where I expected it to go. By the time this review is published, this movie may be in limbo, caught between the theaters and DVD. Before you are able to rent it, I encourage you to check out McCarthy’s other films.