So I got into an advanced screening of the new Paul Giamatti independent film, Win Win. Was just a random occurrence that allowed me to see this early, and quite frankly I'd wish the stars would align like that more often. Anyways onto the movie.
I really enjoyed this movie. Before the film I couldn't recall ever seeing a preview for it but first thing I saw Kyle (Alex Shaffer) show up I instantly had random visions of the trailer and started remembering it. If you have seen the trailer you will know that this movie comes off as very depressing, which it is at times. Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) is a struggling lawyer who runs his own practice in New Jersey (they probably say what city it takes place in but that is slipping my mind at the moment). The practice isn't very profitable currently and Mike's health is taking a toll from the added stress of supporting his family with his shrinking income. Jackie Flaherty, played by the wonderful Amy Ryan whom most will recognize immediately as the recently departed cast member Holly from The Office, acts as Mike's wife. Her role in it may seem minor, but the scenes she plays a part in are some of the most important and memorable ones.
Without giving away all the twists and turns of the story I'll try to summarize the story if anything to spark an interest in you. Mike has an elderly client, Leo Poplar, suffering from the early stages of dementia. Leo is ruled by the court as being unable to care for himself and must acquire a guardian, which in his case will be his missing daughter, or the State it seems. There is a search for his long lost daughter, Cindy (Melanie Lynskey), who does eventually come in from Ohio. But Mike requests to be Leo's guardian, so he can receive the $1200 a month that he is entitled too as his guardian. Leo can easily afford this from his estate apparently. Leo wants to stay in his house and not have to live in a care facility. Mike goes against this wish and moves him into one, still being his guardian, so he is receiving this $1200 a month for doing almost nothing. This is a move Mike makes in a time of desperation, not thinking of the consequences.
Everything gets complicated when Kyle, Cindy's son; Leo's grandson, shows up wanting to live with Leo after running away from home, the two have never met, and Leo had not seen his daughter Cindy in over 20 years. Mike ends up taking him in after figuring out the situation, to stay with him and his family. The story progresses and we discover that Kyle is an amazing wrestler, who got second in state as a freshman in Ohio. Mike moonlights as the local high school's wrestling coach with Stephen Vigman (Jeffrey Tambor, George Bluth Sr. from Arrested Development), who is also a partner at Mike's practice. Mike gets him on the team and he performs amazingly well for their team who had never won a match (I think that's what they're called in wrestling?). Kyle also inspires his fellow teammates to do better and take practice seriously.
The movie did have some very good comedic relief. A random curse word from Mike's older daughter, or a scene involving a "mooning" captured on a cell phone to be sent to an ex-wife. It helped to balance out this seemingly daunting monotony that Mike was stuck in. Usually in a drama like this there will be fantastic cinematography, or an incredible soul-stealing score. This film had neither, it focused on the characters, and their interactions. I felt this went perfectly with the movie and anything else would have been distracting. You really care for and feel like you know the characters by the end of the movie.
A minor element of the film that really appealed to me was the way they did certain scene transitions. Multiple times throughout the film Mike would answer his phone and have an ambiguous conversation with an unknown person on the other end. The scene would clip to what the call was about and every time except once you were still left hanging in the scene on what was going on. Eventually the conversation would shift to a more direct explanation of the circumstances, or if you are observant you can beat the writers to that part and discern it from minor details in the shot. For instance they have to visit the home Leo is in an emergency, but you don't realize this until you either recognize the man they're talking to has a tiny "One Oak" symbol on his shirt, the facility Leo is in, or the conversation goes on and gives it away.
I'm sure this movie will be compared to that awful film The Blind Side. I know it's going to happen and I'm just going to go ahead and tell you why this movie was so much better. The characters were believable, real human beings you could relate too. Not caricatures of an abandoned black boy, southern Texas woman, and whoever else appeared in that excuse of a movie. It has the same general concept, but it was just well done in Win Win, and so terribly in The Blind Side. You can see the flaws, smell the insecurity, hear the flawed logic, and feel their worries as your own. In the end Win Win did a great job of depicting an average family, take on a hefty burden with unseen consequences and try to do their best with their burden (or blessing?)
I will say though that there is an unconventional ending (as are most independent films these days), and although it seems random, inconsequential and does not tie up some loose ends (one major end) from the story, it gave the entire movie a real strong sense of completion. It was ultimately the perfect, feel good, encompassing "wrong ending."
This movie came out 1 hour and 52 minutes ago as of this post, April Fool's day, so I would highly advise you go see it if you are in the mood for an enticing drama this weekend. I really did enjoy this movie and hope everyone else who sees it can say the same.