Tag Archives: Alex Shaffer

Win Win

26 Apr

Title: Win Win
Thomas McCarthy
Writer: Thomas McCarthy, based on a story by himself and Joe Tiboni
Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Alex Shaffer, Bobby Cannavale, Jeffrey Tambor, Burt Young, Melanie Lynskey
MPAA Rating:
R, language
106 min
Major Awards:

IMDb Rating:
Rotten Tomatoes:

Boy am I on a streak of watching some awesome films. After experiencing the terrible Red Riding Hood I have had the good fortune of stumbling upon some real quality films, after that came Jane Eyre, which is to date my favorite film of the year, then Limitless which was quite good, then The Lincoln Lawyer which was all sorts of fun, then Paul which was superb, and now Win Win, which is honestly terrific, and not just because there’s a song by The National in it, it actually comes only below Jane Eyre as far as movies I’ve seen this year.

I love this film. I honestly felt love towards it, I was just so immensely enthralled by it that it was a terrific sensation, and it’s because Thomas McCarthy is just proving that he’s one of the better directors to come out in the last decade or so in terms of portraying real people and real emotions.

This is the guy that started out acting since the nineties, and continues to do so, and then kicked off his directing career with The Station Agent in 2003, a film that was beautiful in its quietness and that had some truly gorgeous performances in it. He waited five years before releasing his next film, The Visitor, which came in 2008 and which got the wonderful Richard Jenkins an Oscar nomination, that too was a beautifully understated film, one that was entirely graceful and full of extraordinary moments. So trust me when I tell you I was really looking forward to check out his third directorial effort, especially when in between The Visitor and this one he had used his talents for capturing great human emotions in helping with the story for Up, and you know how perfect that one turned out.

Win Win is yet another powerful film from Mr. McCarthy, one very much grounded on human emotion and with performances that can’t be labeled as anything less than masterful. And the masterful quality of the performances starts with its star, the wonderful Paul Giamatti.

This is an actor that’s probably one of the best working today, and also one of the most consistent in the high quality of his work, not to mention that he’s a very different sort of actor. Paul Giamatti is a guy that excels at playing characters who sort of feel like losers, it’s everything about him that just works for that kind of role, his body and the way he uses it, his raspy voice, the great way that only he can portray exasperation, the way that only he can look disappointed. And that’s something rare.

You look at some of the roles he’s totally owned, whether it’s the mediocre wine aficionado Miles in the splendid Sideways, a role I still can’t fathom how didn’t manage to earn him an Oscar nomination, or the very peculiar comic book writer Harvey Pekar in the terrific American Splendor, or his Oscar-nominated turn as James J. Braddock’s manager Joe Gould in Cinderella Man, and you can quickly see that this is a man that just brings something very unique to every single role he tackles, and plays them in a way that only he could have.

You can now go ahead and add Mike Flaherty to that list of great characters Mr. Giamatti embeds with his incomparable set of skills. He’s a struggling lawyer who also happens to moonlight as the coach of a high-school wrestling team. Mike leads a pretty ordinary life really, he’s a much more modest character than those I listed above and is challenged by many of the common everyday worries and anxieties most American men like him are, his business isn’t going all that great, the guys on his team aren’t performing like he would want them to, these many little things that are just a bit off but that get to Mike are the things that make you so thankful for the fact that it’s Mr. Giamatti playing him.

Things get interesting when Mike meets Leo, a senile man who goes to him for legal counsel as he has no family to care for him and is nearing the final stages of his life. The win-win situation the title refers to is when Mike decides that it would be easy to name himself the guardian, get Leo to a nursing home and collect the bit of money allotted to his care.

The real interesting bit doesn’t come from Leo, though, but rather from Kyle, Leo’s young grandson who comes to New Jersey after he got fed up with life Ohio because he had problems with his troubled mom. He too at first seems like trouble, like any teenage boy who just decided to leave his hometown probably would to a guy like Mike, but then he takes him into his home, and we find out that Kyle is actually a pretty good guy and not only that, but he’s actually a pretty fantastic wrestler as well.

Hopefully you can tell where Win Win will go on from that point, because everything that happens next, the good times, the eventual bad times and the redemptive conclusion of it all is incredibly easy to read. And that’s just as fine, because Win Win is not a film that would benefit all that much from having its next step be surprising, and instead having it all be so predictable makes it easier for us to notice the more nuanced aspects of this film.

And that’s where this film has its heart and soul, and it’s also why it’s so damn spectacular. Mr. McCarthy as an actor is used to portraying these second-rate supporting characters, and he’s actually pretty damn great himself at doing it, never really in charge of portraying the heavier emotions of a leading role, but instead left to evoke more subtle performances to go alongside that one, and that’s clear in the way he directs, always paying attention to the little things, he knows how to set things up, he has a truly fantastic wit, and a knack for understated comedy that’s all sorts of awesome to watch.

I love these sort of films that are patient, the story it tells is a perfectly ordinary one, and it has its director relying on its performers to make it extraordinary by having them explore with each other the emotions that can lie behind the situations. And when you consider the people here, it’s easy to then understand why this one is as good as it is. Tom McCarthy is a director perfectly adept at conveying these pure emotions, Mr. Giamatti I have already told you is a master at making the ordinary feel genius.

And the rest of the cast is also full of seriously great people. Amy Ryan is there as Mike’s wife, and if you’ve been following me for a while you’ll know how much love I have for her, she’s amazing in everything she does and this one’s no exception. Jeffrey Tambor and Bobby Cannavale also show up here as Mike’s coaching assistant and best friend, respectively, and trust me that any scene that has any combination of these three together is just genius to watch, three people who know their craft like it’s nobody’s business and who are incredibly funny together. Not to mention that Alex Shaffer, the debut actor that plays Kyle, is a real find and could definitely give us something to talk about in the future.

I can’t recommend this one enough, it’s incredibly funny, and warm-hearted, and lowkey and honest. And those qualities together, combined with a director that’s great at creating these really nuanced moments, and a cast full of people who really know how to make the most of such precious moments for actors, are what create such a wondrous little film I’m sure I’ll remember for quite some time.

Grade: A-