Win Win, starring Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, and Burt Young, is a fish out of water story of sorts, although it’s not the typical stranger in a strange land tale. Instead the tables are turned, and the perspective is from the visited instead of the visitor. It is a point of view previously explored by director Tom McCarthy in his 2007 film The Visitor. In that movie Richard Jenkins plays a man who befriends illegal immigrants who are squatting in his seldom used New York apartment. In Win Win Paul Giamatti plays a man who is thrust into an unplanned informal adoption of a wayward teenage boy. The film effectively explores human emotions and actions in a lighthearted yet touching way.
Mike Flaherty (Giamatti) is a lawyer whose practice is on the verge of collapse. Most of his clients are elderly people who are in need of some type of assistance. Mike represents their interests in court when they become unable to care for themselves and are facing guardianship or placement in a nursing home. Mike is desperate for money, but he is not a desperate man. He is happily married, has two kids, and is a volunteer wrestling coach at the local high school. His life would be good if he could just manage to make ends meet. He sees an opportunity when he realizes one of his wealthier clients, Leo Poplar (Young), pays a guardian fifteen hundred dollars a month. He steps up to take the role of Leo’s guardian under the guise that he wants to help Leo remain independent rather than being sent to a retirement home.
Mike double crosses Leo and sends him to a retirement home anyway, while collecting the cash. Mike doesn’t feel that bad about his decision. Leo is not a ward of the state, and the retirement home he lives in is nice and comfortable. Mike’s contentment in his decision is turned upside down when Leo’s long lost grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer) shows up. Mike and his wife Jackie (Ryan) decide to take the teenager in when they learn his mom is a drug addict currently in rehab. Mike coaches his local high school wrestling team and as it turns out Kyle is a pretty good wrestler. As relationships form between the Flaherty’s and Kyle, as well as Kyle and Leo, Mike is faced with the consequences of his actions.
Win Win is a study of characters and relationships. The story does not rely on cliché and that is where it works the best. The characters do not do what might be expected of them. Mike is not a bad guy, yet putting Leo in a retirement home against his wishes is a reprehensible act. Young Kyle appears to be the typical troubled teen. His hair is shaggy and bleached, he wears dark baggy clothes, and he barely speaks. However there s a lot more to Kyle than his outward appearance would suggest. Mike’s wife Jackie becomes surprisingly attached to Kyle despite her misgivings about taking in a complete stranger. All of the actors are believable and honest in their actioins.
The movie is both lighthearted and moving. The situations are extraordinary, but not unbelievable. Giamatti captures the spirit of middle-class struggle in a down economy perfectly. He is both the bad guy and the hero. Newcomer Alex Shaffer stands out portraying both troubled and sweet. The character portrayals are really what make this movie worth watching. The story is subtle, The movie is not telling the audience what to think. Just like in real life, people make good decisions and they make bad ones. Seeing how everything plays out is a fascinating look at how people move through the curveballs life throws them.
The movie is presented in a 1080p/AVC encoded transfer. This movie was shot on film, and the inherent grain only adds to the true-life look of the film. The world the characters live in is not totally bleak, but it is not bright and shiny either. The look of the film represents the day to day struggle the characters are going through. The detail is excellent, and the colors are vivid and real. Mike’s bright yellow sweatshirt stands out in the wooded forest he is jogging in. The emerald green wrestling uniforms are a bright spot in the neutral colors that dominate the scenery. Characters faces are nicely detailed. The sound is presented in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround. The film is dialogue driven and it is always clean and easy to hear. The surround channels are primarily used for ambient sound and they produce a nice realistic background of street noises, crowd applause, and birds chirping.
There are several extras including deleted scenes, a theatrical trailer, and several featurettes. The deleted scenes are very short and are hardly worth having as a feature. The featurettes add more insight to the movie including one that is a conversation with co-writer/director Tom McCarthy and co-writer Joe Tiboni. There is an amusing, but not all that interesting, featurette of “David Thompson” at Sundance, which is the actor portraying Kyle’s friend walking around the Sundance Film Festival. There are a couple of EPK style pieces that have short interviews and clips from the movie.