Monday, April 4, 2011
Film Review | Win Win
by Thomas Delapa
Even in the best of all possible indie worlds, high-school wrestling, New Jersey and Paul Giamatti probably wouldn’t add up to a box-office sleeper hold.
But give writer/director Tom McCarthy a few points for trying. If you don’t nod off during Win Win, it’s because Giamatti stays on top in one of his trademark middle-class loser roles.
Three states and two centuries away from his Emmy-winning John Adams, Giamatti’s Mike Flaherty is a foundering father and struggling small-town lawyer. His business is nearly broke—as is his office toilet. Even the local wrestling team he coaches regularly throws in the towel.
Were it not for Giamatti, I have a hunch that McCarthy’s sputtering vehicle would have never left the off-Hollywood garage. At the risk of redundancy, Win Win’s small victories are no match for the double troubles in both script and supporting cast.
Grappling with debts and anxiety attacks, Flaherty cooks up a crooked way out. He convinces a judge to grant him legal guardianship of Leo (Burt Young), a doddering client with money to spare. Against Leo’s wishes, Mike unscrupulously moves him from his home to a care facility, pocketing $1500 a month for his troubles.
A serious breach of ethics? You bet. But McCarthy (The Visitor) wiggles his own way out of the drama, gumming up the works with cheap, saccharine laughs that are only a few grades above Jersey Shore. Washing up among the non-supporting roles is the tag team of Terry (Bobby Cannavale), a lowbrow bachelor, and Mike’s law partner (Jeffrey Tambor), who, as Mike’s assistant coaches, belong on the bench. Only Amy Ryan, as Mike’s feisty, Bon Jovi-loving wife, plays with Giamatti on his level.
The wild card in the deal is Kyle (Alex Shaffer), a mopey, mop-haired teen runaway who arrives in town to announce that he’s Leo’s grandson. (As Mike is fond of saying, “It’s complicated.”) But this potential disaster for Mike flips right around when he discovers that the kid is some kind of all-star wrestler.
From a drab, offbeat drama about today’s squeezed middle class, Win Win takes a fall when McCarthy drags a Bad New Bears subplot out of hibernation, switching to Kyle’s unspectacular exploits that turn his adopted team into a contender. With few exceptions—1950’s Night and the City the great one—as a dynamic movie subject, wrestling ranks somewhere with synchronized swimming. While Giamatti is constantly throwing him a lifeline, the opaque, poker-faced young Shaffer barely keeps his head above water.
If two wrongs don’t make a right, at best Win Win winds down as a draw.