Monday, April 4, 2011

WIN WIN (2011)

Written & Directed by Tom McCarthy

Where & When:  The Landmark, West Los Angeles, CA.  March 22, 2011  4:50PM


We are going in to the fourth month of 2011 and the films that have been released, for the most part, have been far from memorable but finally, I have seen something that had me walking out of the theater thrilled and elated.

"Win Win", the latest from writer/director Tom McCarthy, is a warm, smart and laugh-out loud comedy that proves that it can still be done with a little effort and giving the audience a little credit that they can appreciate a film with intelligent humor as well as.a lot of heart.

Paul Giamatti plays Mike Flaherty, an attorney who lives in New Jersey with his wife, Jackie (Amy Ryan) and their two young daughters. Mike's client, Leo Polar (Burt Young) has begun to show signs of dementia and is no longer able to live in his home alone. Leo will have to become a ward of the state unless Mike can locate Leo's estranged only daughter which has come to a dead end.

When Mike discovers that a guardian is paid $1500, a month to care for :Leo, he comes up with a plan. Mike petitions to become Leo's legal guardian. The judge agrees however Mike moves Leo in to a nursing home and keeps the checks because business has been slow and money is tight.

Mike also coaches a high school wrestling team along with Stephen Vigman (Jeffrey Tambor). The team is currently going through a losing streak but Mike is determined to whip the boys in to shape and make them champions.

The appearance of Kyle (Alex Shaffer), a bleach-blond teenager who happens to be Leo's grandson complicates matters for Mike. Kyle's mother is in rehab in Ohio and he's not getting along with her boyfriend, so he decided to move in with the grandfather he's never met. Since Leo is in no condition to care for a kid, Mike has no choice but to have Kyle live with his family, much to the surprise of his wife. He seems non-threatening and doesn't say much but you can tell that Kyle has some issues.

Mike brings Kyle come to his wrestling practice where he asks if he can participate. It turns out Kyle can wrestle and he is very good. It also turns out that Kyle was kicked out of his school team back home but doesn't want to say why. Despite this, Mike comes up with a plan to get Kyle enrolled in to the school so he can wrestle for the team.

Kyle starts to adjust to his new environment where he does well in school, helps lead the wrestling team to a possible victory and becomes very close with not only his grandfather but with Mike and his family but this is disrupted by the arrival of Kyle's newly sober mother, Cindy (Melanie Lynskey). Kyle doesn't want to see her which causes him to act out in destructive ways. Cindy claims she simply wants to bring her son home but she has hired an attorney who has done some investigating on her father's situation and Mike's involvement.

Mr. McCarthy has created another delightful and touching dramedy where the humor comes from the behavior of these offbeat characters much like his two terrific previous films, "The Station Agent" (2003) and "The Vistor" (2008). His films are such a breath of fresh air mainly because so few American film makers are commited to making smart, adult comedies that doesn't  talk down to the audience. Mr McCarthy's gift is that he writes films about the average guy that is funny, highly enjoyable and in a way most people can relate to.

Mr. Giamatti, fresh off his surprising but well-deserved, Golden-Globe winning performance in last year's "Barney's Version", delivers another award worthy comic portrayal of a well-meaning but flawed individual. It's hilarious but you also feel sorry for Mike as his misguided plan starts to slowly unravel out of his control. The rest of the cast is in top form including newcomer, Alex Shaffer who was initially hired more for his real-life wrestling skills but manages to deliver a skillful comic performance.

It took a little time but there is truly a film out that is worth going to your local theater to see and that is "Win Win", another winner from Tom McCarthy and a film that should most definitely be remembered during the next award season.