Rated R for language, 106 minutes
The engaging, quirky “Win Win” emerges victorious
“Win Win” is the new quirky, crowd-pleasing independent comedy starring Paul Giamatti (“Barney’s Version”) and directed by “The Visitor’s” Thomas McCarthy. The film is touching, engaging and fun, even if the story seems very familiar, in an offbeat “Juno” sort of way. Like that 2007 acclaimed film, this film features a remarkable breakthrough performance from a young actor.
Disheartened attorney Mike Flaherty (Giamatti), who moonlights as a high school wrestling coach, stumbles across a troubled star athlete named Kyle Timmons (Alex Shaffer) through some questionable business dealings while trying to support his family. Just as it looks like he will get a double payday, the boy's mother (Melanie Lynskey) shows up fresh from rehab and flat broke, threatening to derail everything.
Superbly acted and slightly unconventional, “Win Win” treads familiar territory – sports, family problems, and teen angst – though it’d be unfair to really call it a sports movie or a wrestling movie; this isn’t the touchy-feely “The Blind Side” but a restrained look at the relationships that make it all happen. McCarthy, who directed Richard Jenkins to an Oscar nomination for 2008’s “The Visitor” and is who is a character actor himself (on TV’s “The Wire” and in movies like “2012”), maintains a sense of subtly and lightheartedness to the leisurely tone of the film.
In the process, “Win Win” obtains some winning performances from the entire cast, including Giamatti, who seems to be getting better with each role, along with a stellar lineup of supporting players, including “The Office’s” Amy Ryan, who has some of the film’s best lines, along with McCarthy player Bobby Cannavale, Jeffrey Tambor, Burt Young (yes that Burt Young – Paulie from the “Rocky” films) and “Two and a Half Men’s” Lynskey. Aside from Giamatti, though, it’s newcomer Shaffer, in his debut film, who nearly steals the film.
In a role that reminds of a more grounded Spicoli from “Fast Times At Ridgemont High,” with bleached hair and a spate of tattoo’s, the lean Shaffer is a relaxed cool dude and even a cooler wrestler who teaches the coach more than the other way around. He and the pudgy Giamatti have decent chemistry and some of the film’s best moments (“slap me across the head” he tells Giamatti’s coach before his first match).
“Win Win” works best when it focuses on the relationship between Kyle and Coach Mike, and less successful when it veers off into Kyle’s family drama. Still, it’s an affecting, low-key and well-acted film that one of the best of this early film year so far, and comes as a must-see.