Review: Win Win

Bobby Cannavale and Paul Giamatti in Win Win

I wanna go to Ohio and beat the crap out of his mom.

Thomas McCarthy’s on a bit of a hot streak, both writing and directing two little seen films in The Station Agent and The Visitor; small character pieces where McCarthy burdens his protagonists with problems of fitting in, finding friendship or scrounging enough money to pay the bills. They’re relatable and in Win Win he has another perfectly fashioned gem as Paul Giamatti takes the role of a put upon attorney who compromises his own values.

With his law practice struggling to pay the bills and a family to fend for, Mike Flaherty sees an opportunity to earn some easy money when he becomes the guardian of an old man (Burt Young). His decision backfires when the old man’s grandson Kyle (newcomer Alex Shaffer) turns up on his doorstep, bringing unforeseen problems that threaten to put a kibosh on his plans.

More than anything else in McCarthy’s films, the performances feel humane and alive; each character has their own idiosyncratic behaviour (benefiting from character specific re-writes) and you’re happy to be in the company of interesting characters for ninety minutes who never outstay their welcome.

Giamatti can play the troubled middle aged man till the cows come home and he’s particularly good here with a character that’s a little sheepish when it comes to ethics. Amy Ryan is good fun as the feisty but generous mother who keeps Giamatti’s Mike in check. Bobby Cannavale has become McCarthy’s go to man for comic relief and he’s fun here as well. Jeffrey Tambor is the one weak link and that’s not because of his grumpy performance but the lack of screen time afforded to his character as, like a rabbit in magician’s hat, he ups and disappears in the film’s second half.

Win Win is not a particularly ambitious film and McCarthy seems a little too comfortable in telling these types of stories. Nevertheless the script is adept and well done with some sly gags (literally papering over the cracks with Mike’s malfunctioning boiler) or the gradual introduction of characters and the tension in the film’s second half that causes actual repercussions. The eventual reconciliation is a little pat but it takes little away from the film’s finely tuned dramatic sensibilities, evoking a time when simple dramas were the crowdpleasers instead of billion dollar franchises.



Posted on 08/02/2012, in Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Agree with all of this – really enjoyed the film but think it’s McCarthy’s ‘worst’; The Station Agent and The Visitor are much better scripts and end up more satisfying.

    If there’s ambition here I think its in the way it speaks to the fact that, in this climate, all of us have perhaps been tempted to cut a corner somewhere – or at least know someone who has. McCarthy’s film, particularly the end, seems to suggest that the good ol’ fashioned values of honesty and hard work are what we need to focus on to get through.

    • Good point on the ambition of the script, it’s a salient point in these times. I do wish though that after seeing The Station Agent/The Visitor that he’d start to move out of this niche. He’s proved himself to be quite adept at making these types of films, however I’d like to see him stretch himself a little more in the future.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. This was a great movie which would probably would have ended up in my top 20 of last year had I made one. Great performances and a very realistic story with lots of comedic moments. That scene in the park where they were on the ground was very funny. Nice review!

    • I quite liked Amy Ryan’s performance in it in terms of funny scenes, some of the things she said were hilarious like the quote i added at the start of the post.

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