Bottom Line: A
After weeks of Charlie Sheen’s ironic slander against the word, Win Win has brought back the true meaning of #winning. The film is emotionally fulfilling and generally hilarious, and you’ll be glad you took a chance on a movie about high school wrestling.
The film follows Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti), a generally content but currently stressed out suburban dad who faces some money issues as his law practice struggles. After a set of legal arrangements, Mike stumbles upon Kyle, a teenage boy looking for his grandfather who has recently moved into a retirement home.
Kyle, played by newcomer Alex Shaffer (who was chosen more for his wrestling experience rather than theatrical training), is a nice but odd kid who runs away from the care of his mother’s boyfriend while she spends time in rehab. His demeanor is very “whatever,” but he possesses this strange charm through his genuine kindness and discipline. And he’s one hell of a wrestler, as Mike learns, when he lets Kyle practice with his less-than-stellar team.
Everything seems to be going well for Kyle — as showcased through a lovely “happy times” montage that would seem cliché if it weren’t so self-ware — until his mother (Melanie Lynskey) shows up and threatens to ruin everything for Mike and, by default, her son. Shaffer’s performance shines in his scenes with Lynskey, as the two work off each other to display the complexities of parent-child relationships when circumstances plunge below the ideal.
Despite the very serious issues the film deals with, the all-star cast’s perfect harmony maintains a balance between the touching themes and humorous overtones. Amy Ryan’s brilliant performance as Mike’s ferociously maternal wife, Jackie, blends witty one liners with deeply emotional moments to showcase the good kind of crazy that comes from a caring mom. Meanwhile, Bobby Cannavale brings limitless energy to the screen with joke after joke in a pivotal highlight of hilarity. From jabs at his ex-wife to his over enthusiasm about wrestling, he will have you in stitches. And, as is to be expected, Paul Giamatti brings to life the complexities of good intentions through a simultaneously sardonic and heartfelt performance.
From start to finish, the ensemble nails every punch line without taking away from the film’s sentimentality. Hell, even Jeffrey Tambor has a few nice moments sprinkled throughout his deliciously sarcastic performance.
The film presents suburban family life without irony or dysfunction, but with a direct honesty that is rarely seen in modern cinema. Director Tom McCarthy works to get to a place that’s familiar, but still novel. It’s fresh, but more importantly, it’s real.
If anything, this film is full of heart. It’s got a special place for lonely kids and for people struggling to look on the lighter side, and at one point or another, that’s everyone. When dealing with issues like addiction, financial instability, mental deterioration, abandonment, failure and deceit, it’s easy for a film to get serious and overtly dramatized. Win Win presents a touching struggle between a group of very real characters, while offering comic genius and feel-good escapism.