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Win Win

Win Win Movie Writer/director Thomas McCarthy has established himself as filmmaker (The Visitor, The Station Agent) able to mine huge amounts of emotional truth from contrived-sounding set-ups. His latest film, Win Win is no different. The crux of the story revolves around a 40-something family man and part-time wrestling coach, Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti), who is struggling to save his failing legal practice. Under duress, Flaherty hatches a plan to make a quick buck by offering to assume responsibility for one of his elderly clients. His intentions are less than altruistic and game changes dramatically when the teenage grandson of the elderly man shows up on his doorstep.
Although Win Win may be the sort of film that relies on desperate people being thrown together to teach each other life lessons, it’s beautifully crafted which works in its favor. The heart of the film is the relationship between the struggling New Jersey lawyer and the teenage grandson, Kyle played by newcomer Alex Shaffer. The son of a druggie mom (Melanie Lynskey) again in rehab a few states away. Kyle decides to crash at his grandfather’s place, then finds out the old man is in a nursing home. The kid is about ready to move on when Mike finds out he can wrestle, really wrestle. Soon the wandering Kyle has found new home on Mike Flahery’s team and all appears to be perfect with one exception … the dark secrets Mike is keeping.
McCarthy deliberately keeps the scope of redemption small. He knows people aren’t easy to fix — some people do lousy things, some are just plain lousy — and that humbling oneself is often the only way out of a bind. His writing reflects a wariness of human nature but he’s not cynical; the story wraps up with a tenderness that feels true but completely without mush or the need to slap a big happy face on the screen. Win Win  is a winner all the way!

Currently available on DVD and Blu-Ray at Amazon.

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