Review: Win Win (2011)

Directed by: Thomas McCarthy
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale

A lot can be said about those who dare to explore the many aspects of the human condition in a subdued and mostly realistic fashion. Thomas McCarthy’s Win Win is a prime example of such a laid-back and generally underused formula, yet the social relevance coinciding with its central character’s financial woes and small-time existence as a struggling attorney are enough to overcome the narrative simplicity that may or may not strike a chord with some viewers. Like it or not, Win Win is a subtle little film, relying on the strength of its performances and a lingering sense of authenticity to overcome the problems an obvious lack of complexity can and does bring about.

As appealing as watching an everyman such as myself trudge somewhat solemnly along from day to day is, especially on a base level, there’s no denying how unbearably ordinary the proceedings are from start to finish. Comedic relief abound and the requisite amount of conflict brought about as a result of Mike’s shady, yet well-intentioned attempts at supporting his family are the film’s more appealing elements, however they still manage to falter a bit given how textbook the narrative undeniably becomes.

A welcome curveball comes in the form of Mike’s unexpected houseguest and the circumstances surrounding his prolonged stay with his family. Kyle’s subsequent enrollment at the local high school where Mike moonlights as a wrestling coach is where Win Win‘s emotional underbelly comes into play, highlighting the film’s more poignant moments with heartfelt interactions between the young vagabond and his new guardian. Touching as this aspect of the script can be and often is, the conflict that ensues is mostly predictable and does little to liven things up a bit when it’s needed most.

Aggravating as it may be, it’s hard to knock Win Win for lacking in the areas I’ve outlined given what McCarthy’s aim is in the first place. Unfortunately, newcomer Alex Shaffer brings very little to the table as Kyle outside of his obvious wrestling experience, which is a shame seeing as the character himself is more or less put through the wringer without anything to show for it. Giamatti impresses as always and breathes life into the production when it begins to drag thanks to his heartfelt portrayal of Mike and the mind-blowing chemistry exhibited between him and his affable costars. As ample sources of comic relief, Bobby Cannavale and Jeffrey Tambor fit the bill perfectly in spite of their oddball demeanors, adding levity to the film’s darker moments even if said moments are few and far between.

When it comes down to brass tacks, it’s hard to deny that Win Win is anything but a solid film. Sure, the simplicity it showcases in relation to its exceedingly humanist themes may not resonate with some, yet the authenticity present within the film’s brighter and even darker moments manages to outshine the monotony of it all. Humor abound and fantastic performances combine wonderfully with McCarthy’s ample direction, resulting in a feel-good cinematic experience that deftly avoids abrubt tonal shifts and melodrama in an attempt to give us an altogether genuine, wholesome experience.

Rating: 7/10

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