It’s a great way to start a movie (or a movie review for that matter). It’s what you say when things go wrong, it’s what you say when things go right, it’s what you say when you’re in Win Win.
Mike Flaherty (Paul Gimatti) has a problem, well, let’s be honest, he has problems. His law firm is about to go under, his boiler is making noise, his New Jersey high school wrestling team has been in a losing steak—for years—not to mention he has the nervous and unsure Stephan Vigman (Jeffrey Tambor) as an assistant coach. Ah, but there’s a glimmer of hope, Mike soon finds himself in a situation to get $1,500 a month as the guardian of Mr. Leo Poplar (Burt Young), a man in the early stages of dementia, whose only daughter has abandoned him. But wait, there’s more! What if I told you Mike told the judge he would take on Leo so he could continue to live in his own house, but Mike instead pockets the money and puts Leo in an old folks home? Now, how much would you pay?!
So, by now you’re asking, “Where’s the blonde kid I saw wrestling in the trailer for this movie?” I’m getting to that.
Mike happens to stop by Leo’s now-vacant house and sees the 16-yr-old blonde Kyle (Alex Shaffer) sitting on the front step. After a few awkward, but enjoyable, scenes, we learn that Kyle’s mom kinda sucks, but that’s okay, because Mike learns that Kyle is an awesome wrestler, he even has his own special move, but you’ll have to see the film to learn its name.
Okay, how many times have we seen the underprivileged kid brought to success by the loving and understanding coach? Well, thankfully, Win Win is more complex, and entertaining, than that. It plays several different angles while keeping Mike and Kyle’s common struggle to succeed just beneath the surface.
Along with Mike’s growing list of problems, Kyle’s having trouble with his mother, Cindy (Melanie Lynskey), who’s in drug rehab and not much of a mother-figure; Mike’s wife, Jackie (Amy Ryan), is struggling to keep things together; Leo wants back in his house; Stephen feels that Mike’s friend, Terry (Bobby Cannavale), is moving in on his territory; Terry’s worried sick that the contractor he hired—who’s now with Terry’s ex-wife—is walking around his house with nothing on but his tool-belt; and I have no idea what is wrong with Stemler (David W. Thompson).
There’s a great cast here, but newcomer Alex Shaffer is a standout as Kyle. Shaffer nails the apathetic teen who is actually full of emotion and torment. He’s one to keep an eye on.
Win Win is a fun ride that never takes itself too seriously while dealing with serious matters. Writer/director Thomas McCarthy does a great job of balancing the drama and comedy in this indie-film that lives up to its name.
Director: Thomas McCarthy
Writer: Thomas McCarthy (screenplay, story), Joe Tiboni (story)
Cast: Paul Gimatti, Amy Ryan, Jeffrey Tambor, Bobby Cannavale, Burt Young, Melanie Lynskey, Alex Shaffer
Runtime: 106 minutes