Paul Giamatti as Mike Flaherty
Amy Ryan as Jackie Flaherty
Jeffrey Tambor as Vigman
Bobby Cannavale as Terry Delfino
Melanie Lynskey as Cindy Timmons
David W. Thompson as Stemler
Margo Martindale as Shelley
Burt Young as Leo Poplar
Alex Shaffer as Kyle Timmons
Alan Aisenberg as Peter Vigman
Sharon Wilkins as Judge Mabelean
Directed by Thomas McCarthy
(Note: A previous version of this review was published as part of our coverage of the Sundance Film Festival)
Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) is a Jersey lawyer who coaches high school wrestling in his spare time, though he’s suffering from the stress of making ends meet to support his growing family and keep his private firm alive. He sees an opportunity to solve his problems when his wealthy client Leo, who is showing the early signs of dementia, needs a guardian and Mike takes on the role for the monthly commission that goes with it. Things get more complicated when Leo’s grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer) shows up, running away after his mother is sent to rehab, and Mike agrees to take him in when Kyle shows that he has wrestling skills that can save Mike’s pathetic team.
Character actor turned filmmaker Tom McCarthy branches away from his first two movies with a third film that’s not about secluded lonersGiamatti’s character has a family and many friends–though it continues the theme of having people from different walks of life being brought together by circumstance he’s done so well. At first, it seems like the focus of the story will be on Mike and his various stress-causing issuesthat’s an easy no-brainer role for Giamatti–but once Kyle shows up, it turns into a full-on ensemble that gives the entire cast their own moments.
This is best exemplified by the casting of Amy Ryan as Mike’s wife Jackie, a role that may have been marginalized in the hands of any other actress. At first, she’s nervous about having the troubled teen around but she soon warms up to him and has some nice scenes with newcomer Alex Shaffer. Ryan is proving herself to be an actress on par with a young Diane Keaton, able to transition between the equally humorous and dramatic nature of the story.
Even funnier is Bobby Cannavale as Mike’s best friend Terry, an overzealous man-child who literally steals every scene he’s in with his great delivery, making the most of the character and the gag of him wanting to play a part of Kyle’s success as a wrestler. Newcomer Alex Shaffer isn’t bad as Kyle, a role that requires a lot of a young actor, but he does feel like the weak link at times, especially against so many strong vets.
The film really finds its footing in the second act once Kyle joins Mike’s wrestling team and it turns into a crowd-pleasing sports movie, but when Leo’s estranged daughter and Kyle’s Mom (Melanie Lynskey) shows up in town looking to get her father’s money, things turn darker and the film takes a more dramatic turn. By then, you’re already involved with the characters’ lives and you remain on Mike’s side even once you realize that his earlier motivations were as selfish as Kyle’s mother.
“Win Win” shows further growth in McCarthy as a filmmaker with a story that involves more characters and subplots, yet it really feels like he’s able to pull things together for a far more satisfying third act than his previous films. Mixing humor and drama is always the hardest aspect of making a film that can entertain and movie audiences, and McCarthy has now proven three times he knows what he’s doing. One of the major studios would be wise to hire McCarthy to nurture one of their high concept comedies or give him the money to do whatever he wants to do next, because “Win Win” is the type of hat trick proving McCarthy’s worth as a filmmaker that really knows what audiences will want to watch.
The Bottom Line:
A highly entertaining film that exudes all the warmth of Tom McCarthy’s previous films but also has a sense of comic pace and timing that should allow it far greater appeal to a wider array of audiences.