Film Review: Win Win


First of all, Nice Try, Bastards! Did you really think we’d fall for it? Win Win… Seriously? I imagine the initial pitch going something like this:

Tom McCarthy (director/writer): I’ve got an idea for an off-beat character driven comedy about a down-on-his-luck wrestling coach who stumbles upon a star pupil.

Marketing Asshole: Uhhh, Mr. McCarthy, I heard the 5 people who saw The Station Agent really liked it, but we can’t just produce “art”, we also have to make money.

Tom McCarthy: You have to believe me on this. It will have mass appeal as well. Great acting, comedy throughout, and it will be honestly heartfelt. It has a similar, consistently entertaining mentality as Juno, but without the injection of a semi-polarizing hipster culture.

Marketing Asshole: I don’t know what the majority of those words mean, but Juno did make money.

Tom McCarthy: Exactly, it’s a win win… I get to make the movie I want and you guys get to make a bunch of money.

Marketing Asshole: A win win, hmmm, I like the sound of that. Oh My God! I’ve got a great idea. Can you call it “Win Win”?

Tom McCarthy: Uhhhh…

Marketing Asshole: No, Tom, listen I can see the critic’s headings now: It’s a “Win Win” for Audiences… “Win Win” is a Winner… No one lose with “Win Win”… “Win Win” is Winning… Alright, I don’t know about that last one, it’s just something my buddy Charlie says to me alot. If you do it, you can have your money.

Tom McCarthy: You’re really kind of ruining this for me, but okay.

And thus concluded the entire marketing campaign for the movie. I can only assume that to be the case since I still haven’t seen anything about Win Win except when specifically searching for it. It’s a catchy title, and I have no doubt that some critics will “deftly” play off of it in their introductions, but what they say will most likely be true. Win Win is in fact a winner rooted in great actors playing well-written characters.

There are so many positive things that can be said about the acting in this film, but it can actually be summed up in one sentence: Jeffrey Tambor is the weak link of the entire ensemble. For those who know Tambor’s work on Arrested Development that sentence will speak volumes. For those who don’t, just understand that while Tambor may not be known for his range, he is known for his consistently dry, quick, scene-stealing wit. He is good here, but everyone else is so spectacular that he’s ultimately forgotten. Paul Giamatti is both the lead and the rock that the movie is formed around. His role as a downtrodden lawyer Mike Flaherty is so effortless that as I walked out of the theatre I caught myself legitimately worrying about his future. That said, what he really does so well is make everyone else look good.

The actor who most benefits from this is Alex Shaffer, a real-life New Jersey state-championship wrestler who was cast, I can only assume, because he could wrestle (usually a recipe for disaster if there ever was one). Shaffer plays Kyle, the neglected star wrestler who is taken in by Flaherty and his family. It’s a role soaked with frustration and anger that Shaffer succeeds at despite being completely green to acting.

It’s an amazing feat, but the best work is found in Bobby Cannavale’s Terry, whose presence raises your expectations for every scene he graces. Estranged from his contractor-loving wife (both Terry and I seem to agree that it must be the tool belt), Terry is a willing and needy 5th wheel. He may be there as much out of boredom as he is for support, but it’s very much to the delight of those watching. He single-handedly maintains the film’s consistent comic presence through its climax.

The rest of the cast is anything but an afterthought with Amy Ryan as Mike’s wonderfully pushy wife (well out of Mike’s league) and excellent mother to their foul-mouthed daughter, played by Clare Foley. Melanie Lynskey plays Kyle’s Mom, and you will both hate and feel sorry for her. Burt Young is a park-loving Alzheimer’s patient. Everyone is truly excellent.


Amazingly, this mixture manages to surpass the sum of its parts, based on the strength of McCarthy’s character development. We see a family in a stage of growth as they accept a new member as one of their own. None of them are perfect, and they never expect perfection from each other. Honest apologies are backed by months or years of obvious caring. In the end, we find that the best family may not be one defined by genetics, but rather the one that has your best interest in mind even if, occasionally, your’s and their interest aren’t mutually exclusive… maybe Tom McCarthy actually did come up with the title.

Final Thoughts:

If you are someone who shies away from Independent films, go into this one with confidence that you will be thoroughly entertained. There’s no montage of reflection or staring off in the distance or characters brushing their teeth, flossing, and then sitting on the edge of their bed staring at nothing for what feels like an hour. Any hint of this sort of thing is quickly brushed aside by story and gorgeously lushed out human beings. “Win Win” is an easy recommendation for the masses. I often find the need to qualify Independent films by saying “I liked it;” here I can simply say “It’s good.”

Cast: Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale, Jeffrey Tambor, Alex Shaffer, Melanie Lynskey, Clare Foley, Margo Martindale, David Thompson, Burt Young

Rated: R; language

Running time: 106 minutes

(c) Jeff Waters All rights reserved. Contact Jeff through email.

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