25 May 2011

WIN WIN- Review

While smaller British movies about family situations seem to range between the televisual and the brand of urban cinema sent up in Attack the Block, American movies somehow seem to make such stories wholly cinematic. Without getting into cultural differences, that cinematic quality is part of why I quite enjoyed the simple story of Win Win.

Maybe simple is the wrong word, because the plot kind of centres around an escalation of circumstances. Paul Giamatti is Mike Flaherty, a private practice attorney who's having financial difficulties and health problems involving stress. To ease the strain on his bank account, Mike takes on paid guardianship of an elderly client, who he promptly deposits into a care home. However, matters are complicated when the man's troubled grandson, Kyle, turns up on his doorstep.

As studios only seem to know one way to market each type of film, Win Win could easily have been edited into a trailer that pitched it as either a sports movie or a legal drama, when its actually something a little more complex than either. Handily, it very much fits into Fox Searchlight's remit, as an undemanding indie dramedy. Giamatti's starring role sees him looking a little more paunchy that I remembered, but the type of schlubby everyman he has perfected is still present and correct.

The film comes to life with the arrival of Alex Shaffer as Kyle. Although the performance is intentionally uninflected or blunt for the most part, the entrance of his character is the catalyst for a great deal of character development, not least with Mike's wife Jackie, played by Amy Ryan. Jackie serves a plot point in insisting upon putting a roof over Kyle's head despite the family's financial bother, but the scenes between Ryan and Shaffer really develop the relationship between them. There's a great sympathetic chemistry that always kept me interested.

The relationship between Mike and Kyle is a little simpler- Mike coaches the woefully bad high school wrestling team, and Kyle happens to have been a runner-up at a previous state championship. Mike snaps up Kyle right away, and so at first, they're uniting through sports in typical male bonding fashion. Where that develops Mike's character is in how we slowly see him realising the error of his ways with Kyle's grandfather, affectingly played by Burt Young.

What's so simple and yet honest about where Mike begins in this story is that he's not exploiting Kyle's grandpa for selfish reasons. He's a father figure, and like so many Hollywood father figures, he's flawed, but Giamatti is always a very involving screen presence. And so the generic aspects of the sports drama and the legal drama, each of which cross into the narrative as Mike heads towards the heats for state wrestling championship and a legal to-do with Kyle's errant mother, serve the drama that they're taking place in rather than tipping the film in one direction or the other.

In Win Win, we have a film as balanced as its title. It's a film that is typical of Tom McCarthy, who previously directed The Station Agent and The Visitor, but there's nothing old-hat or dull about his humanist approach. Its only failing is its readiness to end so hastily, which suggests that the closing point for the character of Mike pre-empted the process of actually getting him there. But the film is nothing if not a warm, forthright and relatable film about a good man doing the wrong thing, and how that affects his relationships.

Win Win is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Win Win, why not share your comments below? Paul Giamatti and Jeffrey Tambor will return, in The Hangover Part II...

 I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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