A mother drops some dishes into the sink improperly and mutters, “Shit.” Soon after, a red-headed daughter spills some orange juice, unjoyfully mimicking her mother. A father tells his daughter not to use that word, while his wife wonders aloud when he’ll take care of getting a tree cut down. The husband gets in his car, finding a little bit of solace, and all he can think to use is the same, small-minded potty word to vent his feelings. This is the Flaherty family of New Jersey, a little mouthy and a little messy, but generally well-meaning. The mother, Jackie (Amy Ryan), is a stay-at-home mom with two young girls (Marcia Haufrecht and Penelope and Sophia Kindred). The father, Mike (Paul Giamatti), is a struggling lawyer and high school wrestling coach who has recently made what seems to be a win-win decision: he has taken over the guardianship of one of his clients, Leo (Burt Young), in exchange for a $1,500 dollar monthly check. In return, Mike’s dementia-suffering client will live comfortably in a nursing home very near his former house.
There’s only one hitch: In order to secure the guardianship, Mike told a judge he would allow Leo to live at home as his client had wished. It’s a minute lie, and there is no reason Mike should ever be caught. Until Leo’s grandkid, Kyle (Alex Shaffer), shows up looking for the grandfather he has never met. Kyle comes from a broken home, his mother (Melanie Lynskey) is currently in rehab, and he needs a place to stay.
This whole setup is absurdly funny, but director Thomas McCarthy is careful to make certain there’s a story, too. Because of this Win Win’s comedy is mostly situational, carefully crafted but more heartwarming than balls-to-the-wall. Which is a good thing, because I’m not sure Win Win would work as a comedian’s comedy, anyway.
The longer Kyle stays with the Flaherty family, the more he becomes a part of them. He even joins Mike’s wrestling team, and, as it turns out, he’s practically a prodigy. Of course, there would be no place for Win Win to go if everything kept propelling forward like a hunky-dory episode of The Brady Bunch. Luckily, Win Win is better than that. In its third act, Kyle’s mom shows up, hell-bent on returning to Ohio with her son and father. Of course, that outcome wouldn’t be good for anyone.
Thomas McCarthy discusses on the disc how he was going for moments of “quiet humanity.” Win Win is not a loud movie, and because of this, it never comes across as preachy, hopeless, or cliché. It does come across as blatantly, unapologetically entertaining, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a little extra in store too. Giamatti, Ryan, and Jeffrey Tambor (who plays Mike’s assistant coach) are all gems, Lynskey puts in another solid performance, and even newcomer Shaffer is perfect for his tight-lipped, teenaged role. Things may turn out exactly as the audience expects from Act 1 on, but that doesn’t mean the movie still isn’t unexpected. It would never fit in with the Remember the Titans of the world, and it certainly is no Talladega Nights. Win Win is its own little brand of quirk, and if that doesn’t prove a winner, I guess I just don’t understand the rules of the game. The disc is a little weird to maneuver through. When you click on the extras section, the extras choices pop up above. I kept thinking I needed to scroll to get to them, but it turns out all you need to do is click on ‘em.
The first extra is a dismal deleted scenes section, featuring a mere two short segments. After that, though, the extras kick up a gear. There are two commentary featurettes. The first is with Thomas McCarthy and Joe Tiboni as they discuss the kickoff point for Win Win’s story and wrestling adventures from their childhoods. The second interview is with McCarthy again, but also Giamatti. This interview is from the Sundance Film festival after Win Win made its debut, so it has a totally different viewpoint. One thing I will add is that McCarthy is such a talker.
Oddly, a montage from Sundance is also included, and only features David W. Thompson, the kid who plays Kyle’s friend, Stemler. It’s kind of silly, and since Stemler isn’t overly important to the plot, I wonder if someone just found the footage and tossed it onto the disc as an afterthought.
Next, there is a video for The National song, “Think You Can Wait,” which appears in the credits to the film. You’ll totally be able to see why the video appears in the credits and not the film itself. Overall the film is too lighthearted to need the sorrow in Matt Berninger’s voice to make a point. This isn’t an episode of Parenthood. With the theatrical trailer tacked on to round out the special features, Win Win still makes for an alright set.
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