Win Win emerges a champ



By Matt Brunson




STARS Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan

If life is indeed about enjoying the little things, then it's entirely appropriate that the best scenes in Win Win are the little slice-of-life ones. Writer-director Tom McCarthy is a master at making movies that tap into instantly recognizable emotions and experiences — his previous pictures were 2003's superb The Station Agent (Netflix that one ASAP) and 2007's The Visitor — and this unassuming picture is at its finest when it follows that rule.

Coming off a great performance in Barney's Version, Paul Giamatti again works wonders with his sad-sack routine — here, he's Mike Flaherty, a struggling lawyer and high-school wrestling coach whose backhanded dealing with a dementia-afflicted client (Burt Young) eventually leads to the elderly man's grandson, a troubled runaway named Kyle (Alex Shaffer), entering his life. Mike and his wife Jackie (a terrific turn by Gone Baby Gone's Amy Ryan) reluctantly decide to help Kyle out, only to grow genuinely attached to him. But this bond gets threatened when Kyle's irresponsible mother (Melanie Lynskey) turns up, just out of rehab and ready to drag her unwilling son home.

An early slapstick gag set on a jogging path seems to owe its allegiance to the Inspector Clouseau outing The Pink Panther Strikes Again, Kyle conveniently turns out to be a champion wrestler who can assist in turning around Mike's team, and the punishment for Mike's early deceit is handled in a predictable manner — yes, McCarthy occasionally stumbles into unlikely scenarios that generally exist only in the movies. But he makes such slip-ups easy to ignore (or excuse) because the vast majority of the picture strikes the right notes in terms of its characters and the ways in which they interact with each other. Even Mike's odd-couple assistant coaches, played by Jeffrey Tambor and Bobby Cannavale, are allowed to rise above their expected standing as comic foils to emerge as believable individuals with their own quirks and problems.

Win Win is by no means a perfect movie, but it's a lovely one that deserves its designation as one of the top-seeded films currently in theaters.

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