- Vancouver, British Columbia - Win Win is a film by writer/director Thomas McCarthy about the plight of the American family man. Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) is a attorney for the elderly and is in some financial trouble. His practice is in jeopardy and he can't find the courage to tell his wife, Jaki (Amy Ryan) who helps take care of his two young girls. While stressing over his money problems, he overhears a solution. One of his clients, Leo (Burt Young) is succumbing to dementia and now legally requires a guardian to take care of him. Instead of letting the state become his guardian, Mike would take up that responsibility and get paid $1500 a month out of Leo's estate. The plan is supposed to be as easy as that, but in stumbles Kyle (Alex Shaffer), Leo's grandson who is running away from home and seeking refuge with his grandfather, who is now in a home and unable to take him in.
It seems to me that Thomas McCarthy knew what kind of film he was supposed to make while putting together Win Win. Low on celebrities and concept, this is a low profile picture that requires being done right in order to connect with an audience at all. When executed correctly, I really enjoy pictures like this. And fortunately, Win Win wins. Yeah, some critic had to say it. I am sorry (only a little).
Little Miss Sunshine and Juno, which were similar projects in spirit and ambition, succeeded in the same aspects that Win Win has. It is funny but also focuses on the realistic human drama. There is a great balance between brain and heart. At the beginning, the script is smart and takes some unpredictable turns to get to the meat of the story, but I never felt lost or that I had to suspend my disbelief. I mostly just had the same sense of confusion or discovery that the characters had. I had to take time to get to know and trust Kyle, just as Mike and his family did.
The characters are very strong in this film and that's probably its strongest point. Paul Giamatti is a great leading man, fitting very well into the father role of the film. He's a guy we want to side with even if he makes mistakes and makes some poor judgment calls. You can see and understand that he wants what's best for his family. Kyle is also very strong in that he's mysterious, but only because this is what his character allows. He is an emotionally fragile teen with a troubled home and he hides under the alleged strength of silence.
Most of the comedy comes from the secondary characters, which is good. They add flavour to the meat and that's what they're meant to do. Why this works is because the laughs come from actions that reflect who they are. There are no ridiculous set ups or gags. There are just people who are funny to watch, acting realistically in dramatic situations. The story comes first and the characters are true to themselves through it. This is why Little Miss Sunshine won the hearts of the indie audience and beyond. That's why Juno connected with teens the way it did. This is also why Win Win will likely pick up a following, if not in theatres, then I hope in people's homes.
Rating: 4/5 Sour Grapes