Film Review: Win Win

Posted in Film, Reviews
By Martin Roberts on 16 May 2011

Thomas McCarthy’s Win Win stars Paul Giamatti as Mike Flaherty, a down-on-his-luck lawyer struggling to pay the bills, when an unexpected lifeline comes along.

That lifeline comes in the form of Leo Poplar (Burt Young), an ageing client of his broken-down practice who may be going senile. Leo wants to stay in his house, the courts want him put in a home. When Mike realises that whoever is appointed Leo’s guardian will receive a monthly payment, he tells the court that he is the man for the job, thus allowing Leo to stay at home. A good deed, right? Well, it would be if he didn’t decide to pocket the cash and put Leo in a home anyway.

So there’s your basic setup. This comedy-drama revolves around that one bad decision made out of desperation, not malice; Mike is clearly a good man. His wife (the ever-reliable Amy Ryan) knows nothing of their financial troubles or her husband’s unconventional method of solving them. All seems to be going smoothly until, by chance, Kyle (newcomer Alex Schaffer) turns up to complicate matters: he is Leo’s grandson and has run away from his mother, who is clearly unfit to bear the title.

Kyle gradually becomes close to the Flaherty family and, although he initially appears dour and sullen, turns out to be not only a good kid, but a damn fine wrestler too. Guiding the local school’s terrible wrestling team is Mike’s hobby, alongside an embattled Jeffrey Tambor. Later, Mike’s recently divorced pal Terry (Bobby Cannavale, providing a lot of the comic beats) makes it a trio.

This is a well acted, solid film. Schaffer is very effective as Kyle, even though his grunting responses initially suggest a one-note performance. He somehow gives off a warm charisma. As his inadvertent parents-elect, Giamatti and Ryan are good company, both proving again that they can be relied upon to put in a shift whatever they’re doing. Tambor and Cannavale are mostly comedy value, and the film does get a few decent chuckles.

It’s smooth, likable and it ticks all the right boxes, only that’s a little bit of a problem, too. McCarthy’s film skirts with issues but plays it mostly safe, ending up as a well-constructed piece that isn’t particularly original and is rarely surprising. You know where it’s going pretty much from square o ne, and while it’s charming, it isn’t hugely funny or deeply affecting. The point is, it won’t blow you away, but it remains a well played and solidly entertaining family film.


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