Tom McCarthy is a writer/director that, sadly, most people have probably never heard of. After starting his career as an actor, he took a chance by writing and directing The Station Agent, which won him lots of critical acclaim. A few years later, he wowed critics again with The Visitor, a film about a very unusual relationship. Now, McCarthy returns with his next touching story in Win Win.
Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) a lawyer in a small town, is happily married to Jackie (Amy Ryan), and has two young daughters. Business is rather slow at his practice, so when he finds a chance for easy money, he takes it. A court has ruled that an elderly client of his, Leo Poplar (Burt Young), is to be moved into a rest home since his daughter cannot be located and he is unable to take care of himself. However, Mike decides to claim guardianship of him because it comes with a $1,500 check every month, money that he could really use.
His plan is rather simple: claim guardianship of Leo, but still place him in the home and collect the check every month. Very soon after this, Kyle (Alex Shaffer), Leo’s grandson, shows up on his doorstep, not knowing that Leo has already been moved into the home. As a temporary measure, Mike and Jackie take Kyle into their home until they can decide what to do. In the meantime, Kyle spends time with Mike, going to work with him at first and also to the wrestling meets that he coaches at the local high school.
Kyle decides to join in on the wrestling and is quickly discovered to be quite good at it. With his help, they begin winning matches, something they are not used to. Everything seems to be going great, especially his relationship with the Flaherty family. Then his mother, who has been in a rehab program, suddenly shows up, which begins to complicate things.
Win Win gets started off right on the right note, letting you know just what kind of humor the film is going to use. Luckily, it’s not the lowbrow kind of humor that so many writers have fallen into, but instead, McCarthy uses a quirky humor that ends up being really funny. It’s this quirky humor that helps carry the film along, never slowing down too much, but McCarthy also knows when to hold it back and let the drama take hold.
He is able to blend the two genres quite well, showing us the eccentricities of these characters while balancing it with the serious nature of Kyle, his mother, and the situation that they are going through. The humor used here has an interesting range. At some points, it’ll consists of quick, unexpected one-liners that end up getting a good, hearty belly-laugh, while other parts will just consist of a simple reactionary shot, such as those of Jeffrey Tambor, who plays an assistant wrestling coach. These get the same reaction as the fast-paced one-liners.
McCarthy has such a talent for writing characters such as these, characters that feel like real people. You may recall from The Visitor, that he could take two completely different characters, like the couple that squats in the main character’s apartment, and bring them all together to form a lasting relationship that you end up caring about. Likewise, in Win Win, he is able to bring together a desperate lawyer, an elderly man who just wants to live at home, and a troubled teenager, among others, to form a fascinating story that’s easy to get emotionally involved in.
The performances also go a long way towards helping to make this happen. Giamatti is well-known for playing characters like this, but he’s so good at it. He’s able to turn Mike into a regular down-to-earth kind of guy who we can sympathize with in his time of need. Amy does a wonderful job as Mike’s concerned wife who just rolls with the situation as they take Alex in and come to accept him as part of their family. Likewise, first-time actor, but real-life wrestler, Alex Shaffer is very convincing as the teen just trying to find a place to belong.
Win Win continues McCarthy’s streak of bringing realistic characters and realistic situations to life on the screen. He has clearly shown his talent for writing and directing, making him one of those directors to watch out for when they have a new project coming up. According to IMDB, he doesn’t currently have anything in development. Hopefully that will change very soon because it’s films like this one that present a welcome breath of fresh air in a time when most writers just don’t try very hard.
Looking at the Blu-Ray itself, the transfer looks strangely dull. Whereas most Blu-Ray discs I’ve watched have a picture that looks crisp, this one doesn’t look nearly as sharp as usual. The picture doesn’t look bad, but it looks closer to DVD quality than a Blu-ray. The audio is crystal clear and crisp with dialogue coming through loud and clear.
As for special features, here’s what’s included:
- Deleted Scenes
- Tom McCarthy and Joe Tiboni discuss Win Win
- David Thompson at Sundance 2011
- In Conversation with Tom McCarthy and Paul Giamatti at Sundance 2011
- “Think You Can Wait” Music Video by The National
- Theatrical Trailer
Sadly, there’s not much to these special features at all. There are only two very short deleted scenes that add absolutely nothing to the movie. The most interesting feature of the bunch is McCarthy and Tiboni talking about their inspiration for the film, but it’s also very short and doesn’t go into much detail. That was a recurring problem with the other features.
They are all pretty much short snippets of the cast and crew saying a line or two about the film or their character without going into any detail about working on the film. It would have been nice to get more than five seconds of interview footage of Alex Shaffer too, seeing as how this was his first film and all.
While the special features are quite disappointing, at the very least you get a great film. It did deserve better treatment though as the film was one of the big surprises of the year and will more than likely be making my top ten list come December. It’s a funny, touching, and sweet film that is definitely worth checking out.
Win Win is very well written and features a great mixture of comedy and touching drama. There are also wonderful performances from everyone in the cast.