Win Win: Tom McCarthy’s Films Are All Winners
It’s unlikely that you will find any surprises in the plot machinations of Tom McCarthy’s newest film, Win Win. If you’ve seen the trailer, you can almost certainly predict what happens to the characters, much like in many other films about a high school coach and his troubled star. However, what hold McCarthy’s movies all a notch above the rest is the sweet humanism behind every line and shot. His characters are recognizable– we sympathize with their choices and troubles, and while the central conflict stems from the economic recession, this film is funnier than expected, and heartfelt as any McCarthy film to date.
Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) is having a bad year. His law firm is going broke, and he needs a new boiler. His best client, Leo (Burt Young), is going to be put into a state-run nursing home unless he finds him a guardian. The high school wrestling team that he coaches with his friend Stephen (Jeffrey Tambor) is the worst around. And while jogging with Terry, he suffers a disturbing chest pain. One night, he encounters Leo’s grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer). He’s 16, with bleached-blonde hair, a cigarette habit, and an absent drug-addicted mother (Melanie Lynskey). Mike takes Kyle in, despite the concerns of his wife (Amy Ryan), and soon discovers Kyle has a remarkable talent for wrestling.
You feel for the characters. They have dimension immediately and they’re never the butt of the joke. Every character, even with his flaws and quirks, earns our sympathy. Mike very close to the beginning makes a morally questionable decision, and instead of judging him, I understood his plight that forced him to make that choice and found myself disappointed rather than judgmental. The fact that the characters are so lovingly portrayed is a testament to the talent of McCarthy, who has perfected these human dramas and comedies with The Station Agent and The Visitor. These films usually take on an issue prevalent in today’s society and view it not through bombastic epic eyes, but through the eyes of a commoner.
No one wears the hat of the commoner better than Giamatti, who does some really nice work here per usual. Same goes for Ryan and Tambor– I’ve never disliked either in anything. The real surprise here is Bobby Cannavale, who’s always been funny in films, but here he absolutely waltzes away with the film as the best friend who gets a little *too* excited about Kyle’s wrestling ability and joins the team as an assistant coach. I was skeptical after the film’s introduction to him, a bout of goofy physical humor, but eventually every appearance onscreen got out-loud laughs. The drama contained in the last thirty minutes of the movie is predictable, as are the events during the wrestling season, but it’s an enjoyable formula with a final moment that caught me off-guard. It’s probably not the most affecting or funniest McCarthy film… but even a lesser McCarthy film wins out over others.