Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Win Win

"Do Whatever the F*@# You Have To..."
"If You Can Read This, You Are Pinned"

The only member of the Flaherty family, who doesn't greet the latest mini-tragedy with an "Oh, Shit" is the baby, and that's only because she's pre-verbal (It might even become her first word).

Michael Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) is a half-hearted New Jersey attorney whose practice isn't perfect by any stretch, and who's probably never set foot in a court-room, and has a clientele with one foot in the grave.  He also coaches the high school's losing wrestling team of mis-fitsHe's starting to have panic attacks any time someone mentions money, and he is so stressed out that he makes one compromise that will haunt him: he sign himself as the caretaker for one of his clients, then pockets the $1500 a month check so he won't lose his practice.  For that, he moves his lightly-demented client (Burt Young) into a care facility and lets the professionals do his job.

As if it was that easy.  The reason Leo needs a care-taker is his only relative, his daughter (Melanie Lynskey), is in rehab, trying to straighten out, and her son, Kyle (Alex Shaffer), set adrift, making his way to Jersey to check up on the only family he has. Kyle is a string-bean, a good wrestler, speaks in "that" teen monotone that every parent knows and can't duplicate, and has had to cope on his own for so long that he is pretty good at everything.  In order to keep his embezzling from Kyle, Michael takes him into his household, enrolling him in school, and getting him onto the wrestling team.

And everything changes.  Spurred on and inspired by Kyle, the team starts to win—the kid's "go-for-broke" attitude becoming contagious, forcing all in his path to be less cautious, or, at least willing to do "as little as possible," setting up a moral ambiguity about how can live with things going right for doing wrong.

Tom McCarthy wrote and directed Win Win, and like his previous films The Visitor and The Station Agent (he also wrote the story for Pixar's Up), this one is just as quirky and deeply delivered.  The whole thing has an awkward rhythm and comic timing that keeps one off-guard, while all the way rewarding with some genuine laugh-out-loud moments, and keeps one guessing what could possibly happen next.  Yet, the people in the frame feel recognizable in their routines and quiet desperations and McCarthy has judiciously cast it with not entirely attractive character actors who mine it all for what it is worth (which in considerable).  Giamatti is particularly relaxed in this, his brow furrowed, not with its regular actorly intensity, but with a low-level worried cogitation that underlines his every move.  It's one of those rare movies where everybody is note-perfect, including Young, who hasn't been this subtle in years, Jeffrey Tambor, Amy Ryan (playing a decent steadying influence for once—you love her), and Bobby Cannavale, as the guy who manages (innocently) to do the wrong things at the right time.  Even the kids, in their gawky, proto-human ways, "feel" right in their every move, artless, unstudied.  You like this community even when individual actions take you aback and surprise you.  It's one of those heartening spectacles where everybody, characters and artisans alike, are doing the best they can. 

Win Win is a Full-Price Ticket.

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