A triumph at the Sundance Film festival this year, “Win Win” has viewers pinned to their seats before they know what’s coming.
Paul Giamatti is excellent as Mike Flaherty, a financially woed attorney who also coaches the pitiful high school wrestling team. To profit an extra $1,500 a month, Mike unethically assumes guardianship of an elderly man with dementia. The old man’s teenage grandson, Kyle (Alex Shaffer), who happens to be a star wrestler, unexpectedly shows up, reversing the team’s losing record.
The beauty of “Win Win” is grounded in believable characters and convincing acting. Giamatti shares terrific on-screen chemistry with Amy Ryan, who plays his wife, Jackie, a street-smart, tough mother from New Jersey. Shaffer, in a successful big screen debut, effectively exhibits confusion, and most entertaining of all, the carefree aloofness of a teenage boy. Bobby Cannavale is also amusing as Mike’s energetic best friend and co-wrestling coach who still acts like a teenager himself. The family’s quirky idiosyncrasies, such as their excitement over Wii Golf, undoubtedly will remind viewers of people they know.
Oscar-nominated writer and director Thomas McCarthy, involved with films such as “The Station Agent” and “Up,” fashions a simple but engaging story. “Win Win” is effective in its simplicity and its ability to present a believable yet captivating story. The simple story line, based on how a good man succumbs to temptation, seems like it could happen to anyone’s friend or colleague.
The movie’s humor is subtle and real. Instead of slapstick, in-your-face comedy, funny moments result from human idiosyncrasies and relationships. The interaction among the three incompetent wrestling coaches in their sideline comments and excessive excitement when a player miraculously gets a pin provides humorous entertainment. Bonding moments among goofy teenage boys in tight spandex uniforms will also have viewers chuckling.
The drama in the film is also well executed. Without being overly dramatic, the movie depicts Kyle’s strained relationship with his neglectful, drug-addicted mother. The opposing drama and comedy genres blend together seamlessly.
Shining moments exist as a bond develops between Kyle and Mike’s family. Conversations between the teenager and Mike’s adorable little daughter are subtly heartwarming, as is Jackie’s reluctant protectiveness. Ultimately, this film is about people — their interactions, bonds and mutual encouragement — which keeps viewers invested throughout.
The wrestling scenes are also amusing to watch. Flaherty’s losing team of skinny pubescent boys is defeated over and over again. Not until Kyle joins the team do the wrestling moves actually start to improve. A wrestler in real life, Shaffer’s sudden flips and pins supply the film with much-needed moments of action.
There are no ultra-special effects or rapid camera movements in “Win Win” — just a story at its best. Exceptional plot, characters and acting make ”Win Win” a victory.
“Win Win” was written by Joe Tiboni, and written and directed by Thomas McCarthy.
3.5 stars out of 4