Win Win

| August 26, 2011

Win Win is a film about a lawyer, Mike (Paul Giamatti), who moonlights as a high school wrestling coach. Unable to find the daughter of one of his wealthy clients, Mike agrees to become the man’s legal guardian in order to receive a $1,500 monthly stipend. Things get complicated when the man’s grandson, Kyle (Alex Shaffer), shows up and must then stay with Mike and his family. Kyle and Mike begin to develop a relationship when Mike finds out that Kyle has a great talent for wrestling.
Now, Mike’s taking guardianship of this man for his money makes him sound like a pretty bad guy, but apart from this one selfish act (which Mike only does to stay in business and thus be able to provide for his family), Mike is an overwhelmingly good person. This act along with his frustration towards his ever-failing wrestling team really serve to humanize the character. On top of that, Giamatti’s performance is as good as it gets. He’s always great in every role he takes on, but there’s something about this performance that goes well beyond anything he’s done before.
As good as Giamatti is, a lot of credit has to go to the rest of the cast. The ensemble of characters here, and the rich variety of performances brought to the table, are superb. Alex Shaffer’s portrayal of Kyle at first comes across as monotonous apathy. We don’t know what he wants as a character so it should be very boring to watch him until late in the film, when the relationship with his mother (Melanie Lynskey) is finally addressed. However, Shaffer manages to keep Kyle likeable right from the beginning. This is achieved primarily through very small, very significant character moments wherein Kyle is polite, and for some reason continually refuses to take any money from Mike or his wife, Jackie (Amy Ryan). The filmmakers could have possibly explored these character traits in Kyle a little better, rather than just letting him serve as a counterpoint to his mother, but it’s hard to criticize this when the end result is so effective.
Other great performances come from not so unexpected places. Amy Ryan manages to achieve a perfect blend between being a wife as well as a maternal figure for Mike, except about 100 times less creepy than that sounds. She watches out for him, gets disappointed when he makes mistakes, but clearly loves him unconditionally. They have a great chemistry. Ryan also creates a nice relationship with Kyle once he moves into their house. She goes pretty quickly from locking him in the basement (again, less creepy than described) to assuming the role of de facto mother to the kid, but it feels genuine and earned when it happens. Mike’s best friend Terry (Bobby Cannavale), who is brought in as an assistant coach for the wrestling team and thus creates some hilarious conflicts with the existing assistant coach, played by Jeffrey Tambor. Both actors bring the same charm and charisma to this film that have made previous performances pop off the screen.
Everyone in the cast is great, right down to Stemler (David Thompson) and Abby (Clare Foley). The former is a wrestler on the team, who really only has one significant scene, but it’s beautiful to watch. Abby is Mike and Jackie’s oldest daughter. She’s adorable and serves as our first exposure to this family, a responsibility the young actress handles professionally. Actually, she does a lot to establish the tone of the entire film: hysterically funny with a genuine sweetness and occasional vulgarity. The comedy throughout is crisp and character-driven, making for a fantastic viewing experience.
Spending the extra money for a Blu-ray copy of Win Win doesn’t seem necessary unless you’re personally committed to the format. It’s a well-shot film, but not particularly stunning visually. Buy it for the acting and the script, and DVD is sufficient for that.

About the Author:

Joe Sanders Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.
Filed in: Video and DVD

Comments are closed.