Well it was bound to happen at some point this year, but a movie finally came along and charmed and warmed my heart more than any other film so far in 2011. I’ve had the chance for some chills and thrills yet we are coming closer and closer to mid year and I’d yet to see a movie with as much heart and humor as WIN WIN. The plight of the main character is timely, the performances are fantastic and the script is extremely funny. From start to finish WIN WIN delivers on all levels, leaving the audience walking out feeling as though they indeed have won.
Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) is a lawyer and high school wrestling coach with severe money problems, a law practice about to go under and a terrible wrestling team. When an opportunity to reel in some extra money a month at the expense of client Mike takes advantage. The seemingly harmless exchange takes an unexpected turn when the client’s grandson, Kyle (Alex Shaffer), comes looking for a place to live. Mike and his wife Jackie (Amy Ryan) decide to take him in. Kyle is a very polite, calm, cool and collected teen that as it turns out, is also an extremely talented wrestler. Mike’s fortunes take a turn for the better until Kyle’s mother comes and threatens to disrupt Kyle’s chance at bettering his life.
I love Paul Giamatti; he’s a triple threat in acting with his comedic timing, dramatic chops and even a mixture a potent mixture of the two that’s evident when he starts to show his temper boiling over. Based on his performance alone I could tell you to run out and buy a ticket to WIN WIN. If he were the only bright spot that’d be one thing, but the whole cast is exceptional. Amy Ryan is also very charming and funny, Jeffrey Tambor automatically gets me laughing just by being on screen and Bobby Cannavale had me in stitches by the end from laughing so hard. The newcomer Alex Shaffer as Kyle is the big surprise here though. Hired for his real life wrestling skill not for his acting skills, but comes out as the biggest draw to the film. His character is just so smooth and nonchalant that I couldn’t help but feel like I wanted to be this dude’s friend. It was articulated perfectly by Bobby Cannavale’s character, “he’s so f*ckin’ cool” and that’s the best way to describe Kyle as a character. In fact, if all high school kids acted like Kyle, I wouldn’t want to dropkick each one individually into oncoming traffic.
Thomas McCarthy handles the material about as perfectly as he can. With a cast like this I feel like the project itself was nothing but a big bucket of win. The script McCarthy has written is very subtle at times, laugh out loud funny and even a little dark and dramatic towards the end. There’s always that inspiring bit of hope and heartwarming feeling of watching the underdog prevail. The underdog in WIN WIN is very much Giamatti, both in his professional life and as the wrestling coach. When things get out of hand you want to see him win, but as we all know there’s just some battles we can’t overcome.
WIN WIN is by far one of the best feel good movies I’ve seen in quite some time. My one complaint is that emotionally I wasn’t fully on board towards the end. I found everything regarding the performances very heartfelt and genuine, but the emotional beats just didn’t strike the right chords to get the waterworks flowing. The biggest reason for this I will attribute to the strong sense of hope I got out of the film. Its personality, despite the desperation of Giamatti’s character, is very upbeat and happy. The direction of the film favors optimism over the natural pessimistic vibes the material would naturally gravitate towards.
It’s early I know, but WIN WIN is one of my favorite films of 2011 so far if not my outright favorite of the year to this point. Aside from the newcomer, Shaffer’s, acting hiccups towards the end the film is acted almost to perfection. The emotional beats are there, but it’s the humor and highly hopeful and light hearted tone that makes the movie as charming and enjoyable as it is. Parents should be aware that the film features underage smoking and is rated R due to f-bombs being thrown around here and there. Other than that, WIN WIN is a perfect reason to gather up the family and enjoy a night out for some laughs, cheers and maybe even some tears.