Feel The Angst!
Thomas McCarthy is fast becoming one of my favourite filmmakers, having wrote and directed The Visitor which I had enjoyed, and following that up with another powerful gem of a film here in Win Win, complete with wonderfully crafted characters, great performances all round, and a story that deals with how we deal with challenges placed in front of us, whether we lapse and opt for the short cut out, or in some cases, stick to our guns and do what's morally correct, keeping our integrity and reputation intact.
Paul Giamatti stars as Mike Flaherty, a decent family man and a community lawyer whose business isn't thriving, and is soon running into debt if the lack of meaningful work continues. And if life on the professional front isn't rosy enough, he's also a volunteer wrestling coach at the New Providence High School, but so far having no luck in coaching championship material from his boys, and have a hard time trying to buckle their losing trend in the season thus far. Perhaps only his family in wife Jackie (Amy Ryan) and kids keep him fairly sane, and of course best friend Terry (Bobby Cannavale) and assistant coach Stephen (Jeffrey Tambor).
But with work on the professional front heading nowhere, he signs up as guardian for his client Leo Poplar, a well to do senior citizen who's about to descent further into the stages of dementia, and as his attorney, decided to take up guardianship for an extra 1500 dollars per month as personal revenue, but snooking the judge in having to ultimately dump Leo into an elder care home. You can scream conflict of interest, and the lack of integrity now, because simply put, this is probably what Thomas McCarthy had in mind for us to think about when we bend the rules for personal benefit, which may seem like a good idea now, will come back to haunt us with deeper impact later on in life.
And everything seemed to work out pretty well too, especially when Leo's grandson Kyle (newcomer Alex Shaffer) enters the Flaherty's lives much to the objection of Jackie, but having to listen to his plight and see that this delinquent actually has a stout heart, and for Mike not to mention a one time wrestling MVP in his hands now, the cards are finally all coming into play now, if not for Kyle's mom and Leo's daughter Cindy (Melanie Lynskey) to suddenly appear and become the perennial spanner in the works, threatening to break up something good that's happening to all the characters, and especially Mike now that he has everything to lose, especially his integrity when the truth gets unravelled.
Thomas McCarthy had weaved a narrative that simply worked wonders, with very powerful characters crafted to be fleshed out by his actors, who all did an amazing job balancing the dramatic moments laced with the occasional humour throughout. Paul Giamatti excels in his role as the average Joe being caught in extraordinary circumstances and having to deal with them as best as he can, juggling different aspects and having to spin half truths. It's been a while since we last saw him not in a chopsocky over-the-top role. Bobby Cannavale instead took over the over the topness with his role as the none too serious best friend and confidante, while Alex Shaffer turned out to be the revelation here with his troubled teenager role blessed with a talent that threatens to be wasted should he not get his personal act together, sharing great chemistry opposite Giamatti in a foster father-son relationship.
It's a fantastic story about how we tend to cover up and do the things that we don't mean to if not for self-preservation, and a reminder that honesty is always the best policy here. Sometimes we may lapse and be given a second chance to make things right again, and that's when we have to strive to achieve that win-win outcome. This film gets my clear vote of confidence in being one of the best this year has to offer, and with an excellent soundtrack to boot, what's there not to like about it? Highly recommended!