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Movie Reviews

Win Win



Released: 18th March 2011

Directed By: Thomas McCarthy

Starring: Paul Giamatti, Alex Shaffer

Certificate: 15

Reviewed By: Matt Chandler

Paul Giamatti plays Mike, a struggling small town attorney who’s run out of money and has to find a way to support his family. Mike’s choice method is to deceive the local court, act as his Alzheimer’s-afflicted client’s legal guardian, and receive $1,500 a month while actually putting poor ol’ Leo into an elderly home. Really, it’s not as evil as it sounds: Leo will be taken better care of AND Mike can cover his bills. Win Win.
Mike’s also a volunteer high school wrestling coach— both he and the team don’t exactly live up to the school’s motto, “The Home of Champions.” His coaching luck changes when he meets Kyle, a teen who skipped town to get away from his drug-abusing mother. Coincidentally, the kid’s grandfather is Mike’s elderly client. Kyle lands right on Leo’s porch, and thus, right into Mike’s house. Not only is Kyle in need of a family, but he’s also a phenomenal wrestler. Another Win Win. Classic.

Writer-director Tom McCarthy doesn’t stoop to stock characters, and the cast comes through for him. Newcomer (to me at least) Alex Shaffer brings a shocking amount of depth to his role as Kyle. I may simply have come to accept that Paul Giamatti is perfect at this middle-age crisis act, but Shaffer struck me as the show-stealer here. This isn’t the normal sulky teenager routine, and it’s a pleasure to watch.

Bobby Cannavale offers a very funny performance as Mike’s fast-talking friend from their high school wrestling days. He’s comic relief, but completely relatable. I was also happy that McCarthy didn’t go the easy way out on Kyle’s mother. She’s not the stereotypical villain here. She has a well-rounded role, and ends up a character we can disapprove of, but sympathize with.

Like many slightly predictable movies, Win Win hits its pleasurable-watching peak when things are going well: Kyle is crushing his wrestling opponents and making all sorts of friends, Cannavale is being hilarious, Mike’s family is cheerful. We know it can’t last, but the story goes through all the familiar peaks and valleys in impressive fashion. It was also nice to see the training and mechanics of wrestling get some press in a good, often great, movie. It’s not a glamorous sport, but I’ve heard it’s really technical, and sucks for the most part. I guess high school track isn’t quite as entertaining, but I’d like to see another stab at it after Juno.

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