Thomas McCarthy has made his writing-directing career by taking ordinary folks that get in over their heads and need someone else from a different world to help them out. The result has led to memorable lead performances from Peter Dinklage in The Station Agent and Richard Jenkins in The Visitor. Win Win and its performance by Paul Giamatti is no exception. Yet, as this is McCarthy's first so-so film, I should remind anyone who reads this that a so-so movie from a guy like McCarthy is usually a damn good movie compared to usual mediocre stuff that sees a theatrical releases. Like McCarthy's other films, Win Win is feels very realistic and I'd even say in this case, very humane.
The movie has an interesting premise, so stick with me for a minute. The film follows a lawyer, Giamatti as Mike Flaherty, who also works as the wrestling coach at his local high school to make money on the side. He's married to a wonderful wife (Amy Ryan) who he has two kids with and is surrounded by two trustworthy friends- his assistant coach and fellow lawyer (Jeffrey Tambor) and a former high school buddy (Bobby Cannavale) who (if I remember correctly) works in real estate. Through a series of circumstances, Mike gets to know his dementia-ridden client (Burt Young) who is suddenly visited by his grandson, Kyle (newcomer Alex Shaffer), who is trying to get away from his drug-addicted mother (Melanie Lynskey, whose character is represented by a lawyer played Margo Martindale who is currently playing the villain on this season of FX's Justified). It turns out, Kyle is good at wrestling and joins Mike's team, and I'll stop summarizing the film from there as the film actually has a number of sub-plots going on, but that should give you a taste as I mainly want to get across how impressive the cast is.
I don't think I have to say anything about Giamatti as an actor, he is almost always at the top of his game. Unfortunately, a lot of the movie needs to be carried by Kyle and there is only so much Shaffer can do with this monotone character. I mean, Shaffer plays it well, but this character and even this story, struggles to keep one interested for the full ninety minutes. It's a shame because Shaffer shows promise and he holds his own with the other actors (he reminded me of Keir Gilchrist from last year's It's Kind of a Funny Story). The film has a lot of heart, just not anything unique to make me want to invest myself in the story. That being said, and as I mentioned before, McCarthy's effort isn't to be completely disregarded. He has such a great handle on characterization and the way he must direct his actors to get such great performances- I'll still always be excited whenever he has a new film coming out.