Movie Review - Win Win
Director Tom McCarthy wrote this film with his friend Joe Tibani and was inspired a lot by both their experiences. Paul Giamatti stars as Mike Flaherty, a small-time lawyer in New Jersey who is suffering from stress and is having panic attacks because his tiny practice is struggling financially.
Mike comes up with a plan, a manipulative and highly unethical plan. One of his clients is an elderly man named Leo Poplar. Through some trickery, Mike sets it up so that he can milk the old man for some money. His plan gets threatened when Leo's 16-year-old grandson, Kyle, played by first-time actor Alex Shaffer, runs away from home and ends up on Leo's door step.
In order to keep his plan going, Mike has to find a way to distract Kyle. Mike spends his free-time coaching high school wrestling. He learns that Kyle is actually a great wrestler, so he puts Kyle on the team.
Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone and Green Zone) plays Jackie, Mike's wife. She doesn't know about Mike's plan. All she knows is that a teenage kid is now in their home. Kyle has his hair dyed, bright yellow. He has a very tough, stoic attitude. Jackie says she worries about "Eminem."
Bobby Cannavale (The Station Agent and Happy Endings) plays Terry Delfino, Mike's best friend and former wrestler as well. Terry is financially doing better than Mike but family-wise not so much. Terry is separated from his wife and misses her terribly. To ease his pain, he obsesses over helping Mike to coach Kyle and the wrestling team.
What's remarkable is that Kyle needs no coaching at least not in the way that the other teens on the team need it. If anything, Kyle is the one that ends up teaching Mike, Terry and the rest of the team a little something when it comes to being on the wrestling mat. This is an excellent choice on the part of McCarthy because the movie then doesn't follow the typical, sports movie route.
The WWE Films production Legendary (2010) starring John Cena similarly involved a plotline about high school wrestling. The movie was heartfelt and had genuine performances. However, it did follow the typical, sports movie cliché, but it was enjoyable. Because McCarthy isn't cliché, his effort here is even more so.
The movie is less about wrestling as it's about the relationship that Mike develops with Kyle. Wrestling is merely the conduit. That relationship is threatened with the arrival of Kyle's mom, Cindy, played by Melanie Lynskey. Even though certain things are pared down as simply as Darth Vader, and despite Cindy having an almost single, villainous motive, her character is more than that,.McCarthy fleshes her out.
In fact, all of McCarthy's characters are fleshed out. You feel like these people are real and are not just there to fill out a plotline. This is perhaps as much to do with the great actors as McCarthy's writing. All the actors shine including newbie Shaffer.
Beyond all that, this film is funny and while Oscar-nominee Giamatti is always wonderful when it comes to bringing the comedy, nobody gets more laughs here than Cannavale. Cannavale is a scene-stealer everytime he's on screen. Pitting him at times against Jeffrey Tambor who plays a fellow wrestling coach was brilliantly hilarious as well. It's not a cliché rivalry like one might expect. It's more subtle, but it was a great touch in a film that touches the heart and the funny bone.
Five Stars out of Five.
Rated R for themes and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 46 mins.