Notable Cast: Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale, Jeffery Tambor, Alex Shaffer, Melanie Lynskey
Review: In the forever immortal words of the great lunatic Charlie Sheen, “Ummm…hello….winning?” Oh yeah. Win Win strikes upon that same redemption chords as such recent films like The Fighter and The Blind Side. But it also hits on the human indie style where there is a heavy influence on the realistic lives of all the characters. The focus is not on Shaffer’s wrestling phenom character alone, but also the downward spiraling life of his coach in Giamatti. This comedic drama ties together nicely the normal humor in everyday life and the desperation to provide the best we can that is achieved by numerous mirroring families just trying to get by doing what they love. Thankfully, it’s a entertainingly heartfelt feel good picture, meant to inspire hope into even the most desperate of lives.
Mike Flaherty (Giamatti) is your typical average joe just trying to support his middle America family. He is an attorney that runs his own practice, and also coaches the local high school wrestling team on the side. He starts to feel more and more that he is losing control, until he takes over as guardian for an elderly client, deemed unfit to take care of himself. Mike sees the opportunity, and sends the man to an old folks home where he can get the proper attention he needs. Along with a monthly paycheck, he meets the old man’s grandson Kyle (Shaffer), who he finds sitting on the doorsteps of his grandfather’s old house. With nowhere to go, Mike brings Kyle home for the night so he can be on a bus back to Ohio first thing in the morning. But when Mike gets a call from the local police department that Kyle never actually left, details start emerging from the troubled teens life. So Mike and wife Jackie (Ryan) open their home to the youngster, until his mother can be tracked down and communicated with. To Mike’s surprise, Kyle asks if he can practice with his wrestling team, and another truth is found out: Kyle once finished second in the state for a major tournament. Kyle is the key to saving Mike’s season, and Mike’s family just be the one saving grace for a boy who had lost all focus and direction.
The Flaherty family can be related to just about any family in the country. In struggling economic times, we only have what makes us happy to rely on. What Mike has is his wrestling team, in which he pours his heart and soul into. Giamatti was perfect for this role, not only because his physical appearance is much more related to the average Joe than other actors, but his involvement in roles is always so emotionally charged. Giamatti transforms into Mike Flaherty, bringing life to a character created by pen and paper. As displayed, he is an actor who is always capable of carrying a movie based on talent alone, even though Win Win didn’t need to lean on veteran skills in order to be a hit. The characters were developed deeply enough that we got to experience a wide range of emotions from each one, even some of the supporting cast. Bobby Cannavale (The Station Agent/Paul Blart: Mall Cop) plays Mike’s best friend Terry, and powerful comedic relief of the film. A character such as his could have been nothing but a shallow joke machine, but even he had flaws that strengthened his overall character. Cannavale’s role went much farther than just “the funny guy.” Amy Ryan also brought her own strengths, offering more than just the plain supportive wife character. Jackie Flaherty was a strong-willed woman trying to balance the lives of everyone in her household, which Ryan brought out shining. She was the typical mother hen character: soft and caring in person, but threaten anyone she loves and you’re looking for trouble. Ryan perfectly portrayed the tough as nails Jersey girl (also, much love for the Jersey references), and showed all the vulnerable levels of Jackie Flaherty as a human being. Even child actor Alex Shaffer was a perfect fit for his character of Kyle, playing the humbled and quiet wrestler not wanting sympathy from anyone. Mix in the brilliant character acting of Jeffery Tambor, who utilizes that droopy dog face for laughs perfectly, and Melanie Lynskey (Rose from Two and a Half Men) as Kyle’s emotionally unstable mother, and the cast rounds out to form a whole cohesive unit. It’s important that every character be worthwhile in a film to really bring a movie to life. Careful character development crafted a story behind each character, making them more than just a player on a stage.
So if my incessant repetition isn’t getting through to you enough, I’ll say it one more time. Win Win works so well because of a mixture of precise character development tossed with the accomplished actors who play them out. For the mainstream viewer, it will also trick you into watching an independent film without ever going full Juno on you. The script was written very artfully, creating humor out of everyday occurrences you would probably ignore in your mundane life, and not just having to create extreme situations for a laugh or two. But who doesn’t love a feel good story? Even I can only watch so man apocalyptic splatter-fests before I need a warming tale such as Win Win. This effort just happened to be so much deeper than most, taking into account all levels of morality while just flat-out doing the right thing. The road to redemption is not about the final outcome, but more the journey our characters face ahead of them. Instances like overcoming adversity, escaping negative realities, breaking barriers, and the act of proving yourself provide the dramatic tension along the way. Win Win realizes this, and gives us a story we can’t help but invest every ounce of our soul into.
Final Rating: 9 failed feel good movies for every Win Win out of 10