USA, 2011: Win Win
Genre: Sports, Drama, Comedy
Paul Giamatti stars as a struggling attorney and wrestling coach has a boon dropped on his doorstep, a troubled teen with the talent to take the team to the championship.
While it’s great to see Giamatti in a leading role, Thomas McCarthy’s Win Win falls just short of being a truly strong film. The characters are all charming and interesting, thanks to the efforts of the cast, but the script feels stilted and pretty awkward at times. It tries to strike a balance between tension and absurdity, both generated from these genuine and flawed characters, but the tone gets confused in the process, making it a bit unclear where they wanted to go with the story. However, as mentioned, the actors really pull the piece together and make everything work in a way that feels real. Giamatti is definitely not a perfect hero, and was the absolutely perfect casting choice for the role of Mike Flaherty, where he manages to be both inspiring and a little pathetic at the same time. New Jersey wrestling champ Alex Shaffer makes his debut as the young Kyle, and does a decent job for his first time out. It’s not great, but it works. Amy Ryan and Melanie Lynskey, as Flaherty’s wife and Kyle’s mother respectively, are incredibly nuanced and engaging, adding depth to where it’s really needed.
The rest of the cast are essentially just character roles, and while they add some good chemistry and humor, they feel more suited to a television sitcom than a feature film. Bobby Cannavale and Arrested Development’s Jeffrey Tambor join in as assistant coaches, and are outrageous and bizarre in their own ways, and Burt Young, best known as Polly from the Rocky franchise, makes a handful of appearances as Kyle’s dementia-stricken grandfather. There are a lot of good things about these characters and their stories, but the script doesn’t seem to take advantage of any of it. The dialogue is clever and the concept is interesting, but the execution just doesn’t feel like it went far enough.
I hesitate to call the film a sports movie, even though it is somewhat about sports and maintains a number of the typical sports movie tropes. It follows a typical sports plot until about the end of the second act, where it abruptly stops and changes gears without much resolution. The wrestling that we do see is impressive, and Shaffer demonstrates his considerable skill on the mat. Unfortunately, it feels like a footnote as opposed to the central theme of the story, and it doesn’t seem to develop anywhere in particular. Win Win is a well made film, looking at the individual pieces, but as a whole there are definitely some things that are missing.
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