Win Win Review

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Cash-strapped attorney and unsuccessful high-school wrestling coach Mike (Giamatti) starts pocketing a monthly windfall after a devious legal manoeuvre. Then miraculously a champion teen wrestler (Shaffer) arrives in town. Mike thinks he’s in a win win si


Writer-director Tom McCarthy’s forte is establishing a well-defined character then throwing intruders into this character’s world to change things up dramatically. In The Station Agent it was Peter Dinklage’s reclusive dwarf who had his life adjustment with strangers who would eventually become friends. In The Visitor Richard Jenkins’ dessicated professor got his life spiced up dramatically by a group of refugee squatters. Win Win gives us Paul Giamatti as a ground-down New Jersey lawyer who can’t bring himself to tell his long-suffering wife, Jackie (Ryan), that his failing practice isn’t meeting the family’s never-ending bills. Things are dispiriting all around him. He and Vig (Jeffrey Tambor), the sadsack accountant with whom he shares an office, can’t get their boiler repaired. Mike’s best buddy Terry (Bobby Cannavale) is bitterly preoccupied with his ugly divorce. And the high-school wrestling team of puny boys and oddballs Mike coaches with Vig and Terry are utterly hopeless.

An unethical opportunity presents itself when a new client slipping into senility, the elderly, prosperous Leo (Burt Young), resists being placed in a retirement home. Leo has no relatives on the scene so Mike gets himself appointed Leo’s legal guardian, stashes the old man in care and banks a generous monthly fee for doing absolutely nothing. Then the grandson no-one knew Leo had arrives, a troubled 16 year-old runaway called Kyle (played by very effective newcomer Alex Shaffer), who had hoped to move in with his grandad. Mike has some fancy footwork to do, but after he discovers the unlikely Kyle (peroxided, pierced, tattooed) is a star athlete, he persuades Jackie they should take the unfortunate young lad in. The bills are getting paid, the wrestling team starts winning for once and Mike is beginning to relax. The fool.

Confusion, deception and unforeseen complications from this one untruth prevail as the basically decent Mike keeps jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. Some of the situations are as absurd as those you’d find in a television comedy, but they are so well orchestrated and acted that you really don’t mind the tidy, happy solutions hit upon after a succession of emotional domestic and professional crises. Fans of McCarthy’s previous gems may sniff at the less bizarre circumstances and less alienated characters in a cosier tale. But connoisseurs of his work will savour the flavour in an ensemble of tasty characters (Cannavale, Tambor and the kids are a treat), and another improbably sympathetic demonstration of dour-droll from Giamatti.

Funny, agreeable and thoroughly enjoyable, if a little bit too neat and fortuitous in sorting out its entangled strands.