- 31 May 11
Perfectly contructed, heartwarming and funny drama starring Paul Giamatti will win you over
There’s a moment in Win Win where a young student wrestler erupts like a volcano of energy, knocking his opponent to the ground. When asked to explain his technique, he shrugs, “I just imagine that the guy is trying to drown me,” he mumbles, “and I do whatever the fuck it takes to get up.”
It’s a philosophy embraced by Mike (Paul Giamatti), a lawyer, wrestling coach and family man, who’s struggling with all three roles. A kind, decent man, he’s becoming consumed by panic, knowing he’s only barely keeping his head above water.
So when a liferope presents itself to him, he grabs it – even though it means defrauding an elderly client Leo (Burt Young) of some money. A despicable act indeed – but Mike’s need is so obvious that we’re somehow able to forgive him.
Mike, however, is having a little more trouble forgiving himself. So when Kyle, Leo’s grandson and wrestling prodigy, arrives in town, Mike takes him in, giving him the loving care and support that he didn’t offer Leo. As Win Win’s plot slowly convolutes, acting as a sports movie, a family drama, a legal battle and character study, Giamatti’s moving performance grounds the entire film, as a man who will do whatever the fuck it takes to make things right.
As Kyle, Alex Shaffer is a revelatory example of anti-acting, with a monotonous drawl so typically, believably teenage that it’s almost jarring. Ellen Page’s Juno may have become film’s favourite teenager with her highly stylised, self-aware precociousness, but then, it’s easy to fall for an ideal. Shaffer manages to make you fall magnificently for a mumbling mess of Eminem-inspired hair and violent bursts of anger.
The director of The Station Agent, The Visitor and the Oscar-nominated writer of Up, Tom McCarthy’s humanistic works have often focused on lonely souls finding their place in the world. In Win Win, he shows us that even the best-supported people still need a little help. Aided by a fantastic cast, featuring the hilarious Bobby Canavale and the wonderfully strong Amy Ryan, McCarthy’s film is overflowing with humour, warmth and pathos. Broad but perfectly constructed, it’s a win-win situation.