Review: Win Win
PLOT: Mike (Paul Giamatti) is a struggling attorney, who moonlights as a high-school wrestling coach. After signing on to be an elderly man's (Burt Young) guardian, he has to take in the man's grandson, Kyle (Alex Shaffer), whose mother is in rehab. Slowly but surely, Kyle becomes an integral part of Mike's household, even winning over his suspicious wife, Jackie (Amy Ryan), especially once it's discovered that Kyle is a gifted wrestler, who helps lead Mike's team to victory.
REVIEW: WIN WIN is yet another film that makes me livid about the current standards of the MPAA. As far as I'm concerned, even worse than their boneheaded attempt to stamp BLUE VALENTINE with an NC-17 was the way they classified THE KING'S SPEECH, as wholesome a film as I've ever seen, as an R. I imagine the MPAA is going to make the same blunder with WIN WIN, which deserves to be praised as one of the few quality family films to come out in the last few years. Instead, it's all but guaranteed an R because of a handful of F-words, when a PG-13 would be a far more appropriate rating.
In many ways, WIN WIN feels like a less schmaltzy and cloying version of THE BLIND SIDE. It's certainly a more authentically moving film, as this contains actual characters and not caricatures. This is a great change of pace for Paul Giamatti, who tends to specialize in edgy roles, but is wonderful here as a struggling lawyer/coach, who's also an ideal father/husband, and can't help but take a troubled kid like Kyle under his wing. It's a moving, gem of a part for Giamatti, and I especially liked his chemistry with Amy Ryan, with the two of them making the screen's most ideal parents since Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson in EASY A. Together, they strike me as the type of family any kid would be lucky to be taken in by, and the two manage to come across as extremely loving and supportive without ever seeming maudlin. Anyone who`s only seen Ryan as the nightmarish mom from GONE BABY GONE will be amazed at how warm, and maternal she comes across as here, which is a testament to her versatility.
WIN WIN marks a big step into the mainstream for director Tom McCarthy, an occasional actor, who also directed THE STATION AGENT, and THE VISITOR. This is him working on a more standard piece of mainstream cinema, but he does a wonderful job of packaging it in a way that never lets the film get melodramatic, and allows it to keep enough of an edge to make it hipper than it might normally be.
Newcomer Alex Shaffer is wonderful as Kyle, a youngster that, despite being all but abandoned by his druggie mother, never succumbs to bitterness. His kind demeanor makes him getting taken in by Giamatti, and Ryan believable, even when it`s discovered that he has a criminal past of his own. You can`t help but care about him in the film, which allows WIN WIN to become a truly moving film, when it could have come off as just another sappy family pic.
McCarthy regular Bobby Cannavale has a great supporting role as Giamatti`s best friend, who eventually becomes the wrestling team`s assistant coach, opposite the great Jeffrey Tambor. He keeps the film from ever getting too over-the-top with the drama, with a couple of great one-liners, and an amusing (and not as creepy as it sounds) subplot about his emerging man-crush on the `too cool for school` Kyle, who turns out to be a pretty bad ass addition to their wrestling team.
Once again though, it makes me upset to think that a real, quality family flick like WIN WIN is going to get slapped with an R- Rating, due to some swearing, which is not excessive, but rather feels truthful, and altogether necessary to the parts of the movie it`s featured in. If you've got kids, and you're looking for a solid family film, WIN WIN is really the film for you. Ignore the stupid R rating, which is undeserved, and makes the strongest case I`ve seen in a while for the abolition of the MPAA once and for all.