Friday, April 8, 2011

Win Win

Win Win is writer/director Thomas McCarthy's weakest effort. Now that might sound bad, but only until you realize the man has put together a pretty impressive resume so far.

McCarthy both wrote and directed The Visitor and The Station Agent, as well as penning the original story Pixar's Up was based on. That's a pretty high mark to live up to, and so I can forgive him if his latest is only a very solid indie flick rather than hands down one of the best films of the year.

Paul Giamatti, in the kind of role he's known for in indie flicks like this, plays lovable loser Mike Flaherty. Mike is a struggling attorney in a small town who helps make ends meet by moonlighting as the wrestling coach for the local high school. He's also dealing with financial problems, stress attacks, and a kind, but needy, elderly client (Burt Young) - all of which he's trying to keep from wife (Amy Ryan) and children (Clare Foley, Sophia Kindred).

Win Win is one of those stories where a confluence of events upturn the life of an ordinary individual, a shortcut always bites you in the ass, everybody learns something important, and the good outweighs the bad in the end. Mike tries to use circumstances to his advantage by fudging the law to use an elderly client's (Young) medical condition and a runaway kid's (Alex Shaffer) natural athletic ability to his advantage.

He isn't a bad person, but takes each opportunity as a way out, even if it means lying to his wife and even a judge. When forced to confront his lies and half-truths he has no reasonable explanation to fall back on, but somehow we know everything will work itself out in the end.

One of McCarthy's intriguing choices for this film is to cast wrestlers, not actors, for the roles on high school team under the idea it would be easier to teach a wrestler to do some acting than the other way around. This turns out to work well in the wrestling scenes, but does come back to bite him a bit when Shaffer and the other kids are asked to emote more than teenage angst. The performances of the wrestlers aren't bad, but I did begin to wonder what more seasoned actors might have done with these roles.

The script has some humor, some of which is dark (and some which I would like to be much darker), as well as some nice supporting performances over the course of the film including Young, Melanie Lynskey, and Bobby Cannavale and Jeffrey Tambor as Mike's bickering friends and assistant coaches.

Win Win is a well-made indie flick that in the end isn't all that memorable. It doesn't have the weight of The Visitor or the impact of The Station Agent (or even the wit of Up). I had a fine time, but even a few days later I was struggling to remember specific scenes and dialogue. It's definitely worth a look, and I did enjoy myself. Perhaps I'm doing it a disservice by trying to hold McCarthy to his earlier successes, but I wanted a little more from this one.

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