(Thomas McCarthy, 2011, USA)
Paul Giamatti is arguably one of the finest and most reliable actors of his age still working in Hollywood today. With total ease, he hops from intimate character studies like American Splendor and Sideways, to 13th Century action adventures ala Ironclad and even crops up in high profile blockbusters like this years The Hangover Part 2, all the while maintaining his confident adeptness with making the most of the material he is given. He comfortably slots into his role in latest film Win Win, Thomas McCarthy’s third directorial effort, where he plays Mike Flaherty, a family man struggling to make ends meet despite straddling both his job as a loyal small town lawyer and as a volunteer working at a high school coaching wrestling. Yet when the teenage grandson of a client he has secretly double-crossed comes to town looking for a home, Mike learns that sacrificing his morality in favour of making a quick buck may have cost him more than he bargained for, as he and his family begin to warm to the perturbed adolescent.
As likeable and cosy as McCarthy’s film is, it’s also got very little going for it; setting aside Giamatti’s winsome characteristics, it becomes abundantly, but never immediately, clear that he is effectively an unlikeable guy who does less than reputable things. Tricking an elderly man on the cusp of senile dementia into living with him to gain a sizable guardianship fee, then hiding it from his latest paternal conquest, is not, on the face of it, the machinations of an esteemed “pillar of the community”, which he is referred to at one stage by his frustrated best friend. Yet McCarthy nevertheless paints him as a hero who has to do what he must to support his family, a family made bigger with the arrival of Kyle, a conflicted youth played with lifeless monotony by newcomer Alex Shaffer. Sure he looks and acts the part, but his lack of emergency reflects the sedateness of the narrative progression, going from one scene to the next in a clichéd and formulaic fashion.
Never as funny as it thinks it is, no matter how hard it tries, the film is also too neat, with scenes and conflicts either wrapping themselves up all too tidily or resulting in easy contrivances; Kyle is a pro at wrestling, Mike just so happens to be coaching a flailing wrestling team, etc. Though the contemporary American indie prides itself on minimalist approaches to everyday occurrences, Win Win can never shake off its gutless vulnerability, making it overly generic despite dolling out its weary life lessons at a watchable pace. Pity it’s entirely unmemorable.
- American Splendor, 2003. [Film] Directed by Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini. USA: Good Machine.
- The Hangover Part 2, 2011. [Film] Directed by Todd Phillips. USA: Green Hat Films.
- Ironclad, 2011. [Film] Directed by Jonathan English. UK: Mythic International Entertainment.
- Sideways, 2004. [Film] Directed by Alexander Payne. USA: Fox Searchlight Pictures.
- Win Win, 2011. [Film] Directed by Thomas McCarthy. USA: Fox Searchlight Pictures.