As the end credits rolled, the first thought that occurred to me was that Win Win felt real. These were basically good people trying to do what is right but imperfections spoil any hope for total bliss. Heroes prove to have feet of clay and monsters don’t seem so monstrous once you get to know them.
The film, out on DVD from 20th Century Home Entertainment, is another terrific showcase of the wonderful Paul Giamatti. He’s become the everyman of his generation, infusing his characters with traits and flaws’ that make them feel real enough you’d expect to find them living down the block. Here, he’s private lawyer Mike Flaherty, suffering from a decline in business thanks to the economy and he is presented with a short-cut so grabs it. He has a court appoint him as guardian to Leo (Burt Young) so he could collect the $1500 monthly fee but then dumps Leo in a nursing home to make the job easier. All Leo, suffering from dementia, wants to do is watch TV and live in his house.
Mike thinks he’s got thinks under control and won’t need to burden his stay at home wife Jackie (Amy Ryan) with their financial woes. Then, suddenly, Leo’s grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer) shows up from Ohio and things get complicated. Mike and Jackie suddenly become unofficial parents to a high school student who turns out to be an all-star wrestler.
Mike and his pal Stephen Vigman (Jeffrey Tambor) have been coaching the high school wrestling team and see Kyle as a chance to turn the losers into winners. But Kyle is damaged, having been neglected by his drug abusing mom Cindy (Melanie Lynskey) and abused by her latest boyfriend hence his sudden arrival in New Jersey. The way Kyle interacts with the Flaherty’s is the heart of the film as Mike is seen as the one good thing to happen to Kyle, until Cindy turns up and in short order, the ugly truth is revealed.
Giamatti is ably supported by a very strong, understated supporting cast, starting with Ryan who is strong-willed but incredibly compassionate and she anchors the story. Tambor and Bobby Cannavale, as Mike’s former wrestling teammate also down on his luck, provide some comic relief and a chance for Mike to discuss the mess he’s made of things. Shaffer’s Kyle is a moody, inward-looking teen who uses wrestling to work out the aggression eh feels toward others. Young and Lynskey don’t have nearly enough time on screen together but both help ground the story with a father and daughter who don’t know one another.
Written and directed by Thomas McCarthy (The Station Agent), the film doesn’t overdramatize any moment, even the athletic scenes, and plays everything with an even hand. These are flawed people but are treated with a gentle touch, expecting them to do better.
The film is accompanied by a pair of deleted scenes that aren’t missed along with a conversation between McCarthy and Joe Tiboni, who helped write the film’s story. There’s a short featurette as David Thompson, who plays fellow wrestler Stemler, follows Shaffer around Sundance 2011 which also serves as the setting for another conversation between McCarthy and Giamatti. The Family featurette has the cast talking about their characters and there’s a music video of “Think you can wait” which is sung by The National over the closing credits.
The issues that play out over the 106 minutes are familiar ones but are organically interwoven into both an uplifting sports film and a family drama that offers struggling people some hope.