Win Win: In the Game of Life, You Can’t Lose Them All (2011)

Posted: November 22, 2011 in Comedy, Drama

If one cannot lose it all, Mike Flaherty may seem like he is trying to push himself to the limit. While he has a mediocre business as a lawyer and a happy family, there are several factors weighing on him, including increasing debt, decreasing business, an anxiety condition and a failing high school wrestling team. When his client, Leo Poplar, is in need of assistance to prevent the state from taking over his care, Mike decides to step in and find suitable care, placing Leo in a group home and secretly collecting the monthly stipend. It seems like the plan is a success until Leo’s grandson, Kyle, shows up on Leo’s doorstep claiming that his mother sent him to visit. As Mike discovers more about this mysterious kid, he also learns of Kyle’s natural wrestling ability. Acting on an opportunity, he easily convinces Kyle to stay with his family for a while and start up wrestling again. When the mother gets involved, Mike starts to see his plans unravel but develops new perspectives on his situation and relationships.

Starring: Paul Giamatti (Mike Flaherty), Amy Ryan (Jackie Flaherty), Bobby Cannavale (Terry Delfino), Jeffrey Tambor (Stephen Vigman), Burt Young (Leo Poplar), Melanie Lynskey (Cindy), Alex Shaffer (Kyle), Margo Martindale (Eleanor), David W. Thompson (Stemier), Nina Arianda (Shelly)

Some natural talents are tied together in this cast to provide great depth in the comedic and dramatic elements of the film. Centered around Paul Giamatti, the movie focuses on his ability to play both the clever and hopeless protagonist simultaneously. While his character starts with a host of issues, scheming causes him to start getting ahead in life while taking advantage of others. When the wrench gets thrown in the plan, Giamatti instantly goes from confident and in control to nervous and desperate. Alex Shaffer is truly a fun actor to watch. Besides a believable portrayal of a boy caught in a confusing world without a father and a mother who abuses drugs, Shaffer actually knows how to wrestle and was the state champion in New Jersey (where this movie takes place). Amy Ryan serves as Giamatti’s wife and displays a combination of protection and openness to the plight of the lost teenager. Bobby Cannavale and Jeffrey Tambor both serve as a bit of comic relief with their interesting antics and thought patterns, but it was definitely interesting to see Tambor as subdued as he played his character (as if the wind had been beaten out of him). Burt Young is definitely a stimulating character who, besides Giamatti and Shaffer, garners the most sympathy for his plight as an old man trying to hold on to his independence. Melanie Lynskey also has a strong presence in each of her scenes as the desperate mother who is fighting within herself for what she wants most, money to support herself or the love she has for her son.

As the name suggests, Thomas McCarthy’s Win Win grapples with the struggles of making choices and waiting out the consequences. For Mike in the short term, taking money for Leo’s care and stuffing him in a group home seemed like a quick way to start making money to support his family. The intentions were positively focused but he was denying a man his own desires to live in a place where he could respect himself. When Kyle first showed up on the doorstep, Mike could think of nothing other than quickly appeasing the youth and sending him on his way. Not completely heartless, Mike was willing to give a little of himself to support a lost young man and maintain the curtain over his scheme. Wrestling was an afterthought and was actually brought on by Kyle recognizing a connection with Mike. As Kyle spent time around the Flaherty’s, he adjusting to being a member of the family, which he missed from his own background. The mother’s intrusion starts a legal and emotional battle for Kyle (as the confused young man searching for stability), Jackie Flaherty (who develops a connection with the troubled youth), Cindy (whose connection to her son still seemed important to her) and Mike (who appeared to enjoy spending time with the son he never had).

The tone of the movie does not suggest comedy but surprises you with the occasional light-hearted scene. The run on the trails leads to an anxiety attack that appears to come out of nowhere, which causes Terry to get into compromising positions with his friend in an attempt to save his life. The first wrestling match for Kyle leads to an uncomfortable ritual of slapping the wrestlers on the headgear to pump them up. When Kyle tells his secret for breaking out of a difficult hold, his response elicits an immediate shock with the manner of his message and the use of it later in the film. Jackie’s interest in Jon Bon Jovi serves as both a connection point with Kyle and a lightening of her character.

There are times in this films where the mood can feel a little flat, but the tough times for the family and for Kyle are mirrored by tone. Overall, this is a solid film that incorporates good acting, writing and directing to tell the story of a man who started to take to much.

Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5

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