'Win Win' is a victory for the common man
Published: Monday, April 4, 2011
Updated: Monday, August 27, 2012 16:08
Over the last decade, writer/director/actor Tom McCarthy has championed himself as a voice for the underappreciated. His pair of independent features ("The Station Agent" and "The Visitor") stands as an ode to those ordinary people we see on the street and don't give a second thought to, despite them having interesting stories to tell. With "Win Win," the director crafts a true modern parable of contemporary middle class life and it's a treat to behold.The film tells the story of Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti), a man with a failing law practice, a losing high school wrestling team and a loving family that's getting difficult to provide for. Things get even more complicated when Kyle, the outcast grandson of his senile client, shows up at their doorstep. However, the teenager (who's a star wrestler to boot) ends up showing Flaherty that some of the most charming and worthwhile aspects of his life still exist. And when the boy's drug-addicted mother comes to collect, Flaherty is hesitant to give that outlook up, and the boy along with it.
Paul Giamatti has made a career out of playing average men, and this is perhaps his most normal role yet. That's not an insult. Mike Flaherty is a character whose humanity comes alive through the genuine honesty Giamatti brings to the part.
He is backed up by a team of actors assembled by McCarthy, not known necessarily for their names, but their abilities. Amy Ryan, Jeffrey Tambor, Margo Martindale, Burt Young and Melanie Lynskey more than pull their weight in the ensemble. The scene-stealer, however, is Bobby Cannavale. He plays an outrageously funny, while also tragic, divorcee who appears to have all of the material possessions that his best friend Flaherty lacks. And yet, his character is as lonely a soul-searcher as one could find in this feature.
McCarthy directs his own witty and enjoyable script with real panache. The wrestling scenes are true crowd-pleasers. They follow not only the action, but also the view from sidelines, where Giamatti and Cannavale can be more entertaining than what's going on in the ring. It's here that McCarthy comes alive as a great storyteller.
My qualms about "Win Win" are few, but significant. While the majority of the film moves at a quick and enjoyable pace, the third act falters somewhat. It becomes slightly repetitive in its conflict of Kyle constantly running away or wanting to be left alone. Also, it's difficult to root against Melanie Lynskey's drug-addicted antagonist when she doesn't come off as that bad of a person. The audience is almost partial towards giving her a second chance at raising her son, which is detrimental to any affection meant to be felt for Flaherty.
If there were an underlying quality that seems to drive this film forward, it would be its sense of inspiration. Yet, unlike other films of its kind, characters aren't generating motivation by surviving genocide or overcoming debilitating illnesses. This film presents inspiration through victory over the simplest (and yet most painful) difficulties in life. These are the fears that we all face or await the day when we know we will have to. McCarthy teaches us that sometimes the remedies for these fears can be found in the most unlikely places and experiences.