Directed by Thomas McCarthy. US. 2011. R. 106 minutes. Fox Searchlight. 35mm.
Fri., June 3, 2011 thru Thu., June 9, 2011
“In its charming and self-effacing way, Win Win is the most radical movie yet from writer-director Tom McCarthy, and it may be one of the more daring movies to be recently released in America.McCarthys earlier films have come with offbeat hooks: the dwarf hero of The Station Agent, the Afro-Cuban drumming that sets Richard Jenkins free in The Visitor. Win Win, by contrast, is confident enough to simply go with the exotica of average middle-class Americans who are well-intentioned, flawed, and dog-paddling like crazy to keep their heads above water. Theres nothing at all unusual about them, and thats unusual.
We first see Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) as hes wheezing through a morning jog. Back home, his somber young daughter (Clare Foley) asks her mother where Daddy is. Hes running, comes the reply. From what? Just so. A small-town lawyer with an office boiler and a practice that are about to implode, Mike is the post-economic-meltdown mensch par excellence. Hes you and me on a Monday morning, hoping to hold it together long enough to pay the bills.
Because hes a mensch, Mikes practice is mostly in eldercare, helping retired folks hold on to their homes. Because hes quietly terrified he cant afford his life anymore, he cuts a crucial corner, naming himself legal guardian to a client, Leo Poplar (Burt Young), moving the old man into a very nice facility, and pocketing $1,500 a month. Its a wrong move and he knows it; Giamatti gives the character the stricken expression of a good guy who has swallowed a bad clam.
Because hes a mensch, too, Mike coaches high school wrestling along with his law partner (played by Jeffrey Tambor with an even sourer puss than the hero). The boys are terrible, but it doesnt much matter. The small and wonderful complications of Win Win start when Leos estranged teenaged grandson, Kyle (Alex Shaffer), turns up on Mikes doorstep, in flight from a deadbeat mother (Melanie Lynskey). Mikes wife, Jackie (Amy Ryan) takes one look at this sullen kid with his dyed blond hair, calls him Eminem, and threatens to lock him in the basement.
But shes a Jersey girl, and the bond that very slowly grows between this fierce mother hen and the lost chick is one of the things in Win Win that feels real and right. I called this movie radical: Few directors would send Jackie and Kyle to the supermarket for no good narrative reason other than to just watch the two together, her easygoing concern bumping up against his marble-mouthed decency. Shaffer is a discovery, a kid who doesnt say much, doesnt posture, yet holds the screen with the self-respect Kyle knows he deserves.
McCarthy, for his part, has the knack of telling stories without overplaying his hand. Good things happen to the characters Kyle turns out to have a few wrestling skills in his back pocket but we hold our breaths because we know the bad things are out there waiting to pounce, and some of them are of our own making.” (Ty Burr, The Boston Globe)
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