out of Five
Running time: 106
Thomas McCarthy's follow-up to The Visitor is a hugely enjoyable, warm-hearted drama that's both funny and moving, thanks to a sharply written script, engaging direction and terrific performances from a superb ensemble cast.
What's it all about?
Written and directed by Thomas McCarthy (The Station Agent, The Visitor), Win Win stars Paul Giamatti as struggling small-town lawyer and family man Mike Flaherty, who decides to become the guardian of senile client Leo (Burt Young) when he realises there are substantial court payments involved. However, after putting Leo into a home, Mike is unprepared for the arrival of Leo's 16-year-old grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer), who shows up on Leo's doorstep when his drug-addicted mother Cindy (Melanie Lynskey) goes into rehab. Kyle then ends up getting taken in by Mike, much to the consternation of his wife, Jackie (Amy Ryan).
As luck would have it, Kyle turns out to be a gifted wrestler and Mike sees a way to reverse the fortunes of the high school wrestling team that he co-coaches in his spare time with his friends Terry (Bobby Cannavale) and Stephen (Jeffrey Tambor). However, things quickly get complicated when Cindy shows up looking for her son, especially as Mike hasn't told Jackie or Kyle about the court payments.
Giamatti is typically superb as Mike, easily managing to keep his world-weary character sympathetic, despite his initial act of recession-prompted dishonesty. He's comfortably matched by a terrific performance from newcomer Alex Shaffer, whose portrayal of Kyle is both consistently surprising and quietly moving.
In addition, there's superb comic support from Jeffrey Tambor and McCarthy semi-regular Bobby Cannavale, while the always-excellent Amy Ryan is on predictably brilliant form as Jackie; Melanie Lynskey also works wonders with the film's least sympathetic and most stereotypical part.
The sharply written script crackles with great dialogue and there are several very funny scenes, particularly the various interactions between Giamatti, Cannavale and Tambor (they make a hugely likeable comic trio). However, what really shines through, as with his previous films, is McCarthy's genuine affection for his characters, flaws and all, while the lurking presence of the recession adds a believably topical edge.
Win Win is a hugely enjoyable, superbly written and brilliantly acted comedy-drama that's both emotionally engaging and laugh-out-loud funny. It also demonstrates that McCarthy is quietly becoming one of America's best writer-directors. Highly recommended.