Thomas McCarthy is probably one of the most talented people you’ve never heard of; he’s a successful jobbing actor of twenty years (Wire fans will know him as dastardly journalist Scott Templeton), he’s an Oscar-nominated writer (for Pixar’s Up), and he’s an accomplished indie auteur. His directorial debut was 2003’s The Station Agent, a beguiling tale of the vertically-challenged Fin - a firm favourite of this reviewer (if you haven’t seen it then I urge you to seek it out). Win Win is the third feature he has both written and directed.
A product of these financially uncertain times Win Win is about a foolish and desperate act and its subsequent fallout - good and bad. Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) is a lawyer whose small firm is struggling. He takes advantage of an old man (Burt Young), becoming his legal guardian for the sake of a monthly remuneration. His wayward grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer) turns up unexpectedly and is taken in by the Flaherty family. Kyle is a talented wrestler and joins the school team which is coached by Mike. This juvenile with occasional habits of delinquency has an unexpected and profound effect on Mike, his family, the team and his life in general.
McCarthy casts well: Giamatti is perfect in the role. He is backed by the superb Jeffrey Tambor, Amy Ryan (a talent I’m unfamiliar with) and the brilliant Bobby Cannavale in another comedic role under McCarthy’s direction. And the ageing Burt Young makes an impact in a small but not insignificant role. The teenage Shaffer (a real life wrestling champ) is very good in this, his debut. As the neglected teen he doesn’t display a lot of charm but makes up for it elsewhere in spades. It’s a good lesson in how not to judge a book by its cover or, in this case, how not to judge a teenager by their hairstyle.
The film is touching and gently feelgood. And that’s feelgood in a smart way. Although it has a lot of heart it never cheeses out, whacking you over the head with an emotional sledge hammer. Due to its quirkiness some may brand it as arthouse but it’s nothing particularly leftfield. It’s actually quite conventional. But it is an intelligent film for adults, and I wish
was making more of them.