The new film from director Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent, The Visitor) is an unassuming, crowd-pleasing little gem – though not without its darker moments - that deserves to rise above the glut of lackluster spring releases clogging up theaters these days and find a welcoming audience. I thoroughly enjoyed this film, think you will too and urge you to go see it. Unfortunately, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com, it was on a paltry 23 screens this past week! Today it expands to a whopping 149 screens. How’s that for quality distribution? (For more on the subject see my companion post: A Win Win Situation?)
Similar to Mr. McCarthy’s two previous films, Win Win (2011) offers up a riff on the age-old theme: “don’t judge a book by its cover.” He has a knack for commingling characters from disparate walks of life – different cultures, different socio-economic backgrounds, different generations, etc. – and then forces them to come to terms with each other in a way that underscores our collective humanity. There are no superheroes here, no effects, nothing even remotely showy; this is a modest, down-the-line character study that’s so intimate and honestly observed, so authentic feeling in its depiction of a rural East Coast middle-class lifestyle, and so effortless in its evocation of the trials and tribulations of mundane everyday life that I was warmed to the core.
Paul Giamatti, in yet another deft, deeply empathetic embodiment of the average schlub, anchors the film as Mike Flaherty, a small town New Jersey lawyer/high school wrestling coach who makes one bad, desperate decision and does his best to manage the fallout. Feeling the financial squeeze of our times, Mike takes on the legal guardianship of an aging client, Leo Poplar (Burt Young), whose mental capacity is slowly fading, in order to collect an extra $1,500 a month in income from Leo’s wealthy Estate. But Mike then shuffles him off to an assisted-living facility against his true wishes. When Leo’s grandson shows up, whose very existence Leo is unaware of, things get interesting.
Amy Ryan is wonderfully forthright as Mike’s wife and newcomer Alex Shaffer dazzles (in an incredibly naturalistic debut performance that’s aided by expert editing) as the wayward teen who's thrust into their lives. The less you know about it going in the better, but the movie is funny and tender, tragic when it needs to be and the execution is near flawless. I don't think it ever misses a beat. Jeffrey Tambor, Melanie Lynskey, and Margo Martindale round out the cast.
A special mention needs to be reserved for Bobby Cannavale who, as Mike’s best friend, Terry, takes your typical comic relief supporting role and colors it in with infectious energy and surprising hidden depths. Cannavale steals every scene he's in. Terry, a recent, heartbroken divorcé, maintains a cheerleader’s personality - he’s a dear friend who selflessly pumps up the confidence of those around him – but, to manage his inner emptiness, he takes pleasure in living vicariously through others. He’s the kind of boisterous lovable misfit you feel like you’ve known all your life, or at least have encountered and remember fondly. It’s a deliciously satisfying treat of a performance. I repeat: see this movie! 4/5