Having loved The Visitor, the last film which Tom McCarthy wrote and directed, I was really looking forward to this light drama starring Paul Giamatti (this is the third Giamatti film I’ve reviewed this year). I was even thinking it might be a top ten contender. But while Win Win has a lot going for it, it did not live up to my expectations.
Win Win is the story of a struggling lawyer (Mike, played by Giamatti) who talks a judge into letting him be the guardian of a wealthy client (Leo) by promising to keep Leo in Leo’s own home (instead of putting him in a nursing home). But Mike turns around and tells Leo the judge ordered him into the nursing home. It’s a fairly harmless scam to make some much-needed extra income. And it might have worked if Leo’s grandson, Kyle, hadn’t shown up after running away (halfway across the country) from his mother (who eventually comes looking). Kyle is a first-class high school wrestler and, by some very bizarre coincidence, Mike coaches high school wrestling in his spare time. And away we go.
I have nothing against coincidences as such, but this one was a bit much. And the whole wrestling part of the film just didn’t work for me (maybe because I find wrestling tedious), though I was happy to see that the film (despite its title) wasn’t about ‘winning’ but about people. Not that I would have expected any less from McCarthy, whose previous two films are so humanizing.
The film’s title is really about trying to find a win-win solution to a set of problems involving everyone already mentioned. That part of Win Win did work for me and I particularly appreciated the unsensational way this part of the plot was handled. This is a film about ordinary goodhearted people doing ordinary, goodhearted (and sometimes not so goodhearted) things and that’s rare in American films. The situation wasn’t believable but what the characters did with it was believable. It is an intelligent humanizing screenplay; it just lacks the depth of McCarthy’s previous efforts.
Win Win is helped by some solid acting from Giamatti, Amy Ryan as his wife, and the rest of the adult actors. The younger actors weren’t quite as convincing to me, but did well enough.
There is some humour in the film (probably unavoidable if Giamatti is starring) and most of it works. All in all, Win Win is an enjoyable satisfying comedy drama. It’s just that I had hoped for something special and came away disappointed. A solid ***. My mug is up.