Review of Win Win
Sunday, May 1, 2011 • 4:36pm
As everyone who has regularly read The Alternative Press knows, Win Win was filmed in New Providence, NJ. Being familiar with the place, I was fascinated to see the town sights in the film, especially South Street. I’m pleased to write that the New Providence locations weren’t the only aspects of the film that interested me. Win Win is a intriguing film with credible characters and situations people can identify with, whether or not they actually visited New Providence.
Paul Giamatti stars as Mike Flaherty, a struggling lawyer who also volunteers as a wrestling coach at the New Providence High School. He appoints himself as guardian to Leo Poplar (Burt Young), an elderly man who may be in the first stages of dementia , and has him committed to a nursing home. Desperate for cash to support his wife and daughters, Mike cashes the $1,500/month stipend that’s supposed to fund Leo’s in-home care.
Then Leo’s troubled teen-age grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer) shows up. He’s never known his grandfather and, feeling alienated from his drug addict mother, wants to live with him. Mike and his wife Jackie (Amy Ryan) allow him to temporarily stay at their house. When Kyle reveals a great talent in wrestling, Mike has him enrolled in the New Providence High School so the boy can join the wrestling team. Thanks to Kyle, the squad starts to win some matches. In the meantime, Mike starts to feels genuine paternal feelings toward him.
But then Kyle’s mother Cindy (Melanie Lynskey), fresh out of rehab, shows up to reclaim custody of him. Kyle is unwilling to forgive and forget, especially because he suspects that Cindy just wants Leo’s money. Mike is also distressed. Will he lose Kyle and thus be unable to ensure a well adjusted adulthood for him? And will Mike’s financial transgression be exposed, hurting both him and his family?
Win Win’s resolution is predictable and a little too pat, but despite this minor flaw, the film is a sweet and engaging slice-of-life drama. Thomas McCarthy and Joe Tiboni enrich the screenplay with thoroughly believable characters, ordinary people audiences can either identify with or who have known. None of them, even the minor ones, ring false. As Mike Flaherty, Paul Giamatti embodies the average schlemiel with his receding hairline, bovine countenance and pudgy frame. He is overwhelmed by neurotic energy whether he is fretting about his problems or relishing in his triumphs. Despite his anxieties, Giamatti projects a down-to-earth affability so he retains an emotional rapport with the audience even when he does questionable things.
Alex Shaffer has reportedly never acted before but you wouldn’t know it as he vividly conveys Kyle’s vulnerability beneath his sullen façade. His climactic outburst at his mother is alarming and yet convincing. After enduring the nonemoting, vapid adolesecents in Red Riding Hood, it’s a joy to see a teenager in this film who can actually give a performance. The other actors also fare splendidly, particularly Amy Ryan as Jackie, who deeply loves her husband but can be devastatingly sharp tongued with him when angry.
One of the writers, McCarthy, also directs Win Win. He adroitly utilizes the real-life New Providence locations to create the appropriate true-to-life setting for true-to-life characters dealing with true-to-life situations. The high school wrestling scenes are especially impressive, capturing the excitement and the pressures of the sport. Win Win is not perfect, but it’s a refreshing small-scale but high-minded alternative to the high-budget but small-minded blockbusters. Now playing at Roberts Chatham Cinema in Chatham and Maplewood Theaters in Maplewood, it is rated R for language.
Raymond Valinoti, Jr. is a resident of Berkeley Heights, NJ. He has a Master’s in Library Science from Rutgers University and is a freelance researcher. His articles on film have been published in the magazines Midnight Marquee and Films of the Golden Age. His biography on the comedy team Laurel and Hardy has recently been published by Bear Manor Media. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, through Twitter at http://twitter.com/rayvalinoti, and through Facebook at Raymond Valinoti.
Raymond Valinoti, Jr. is a librarian, freelance writer and researcher. He writes movie reviews for TheAlternativePress.com
The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TheAlternativePress.com or anyone who works for TheAlternativePress.com. TheAlternativePress.com is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.