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By Don R. Lewis | January 26, 2011

Director Thomas McCarthy (“The Station Agent,” “The Visitor”) specializes in intimate indie dramas that center on people connecting with one another and then forging sort-of ad-hoc family unit that everyone involved desperately needs. His latest film “Win Win” follows the same sort of thematic elements and the results are really good. Not great and in my opinion not as great as his previous films but “Win Win” is a funny and rather intricate film about people trying to do the right thing and the failures and successes they have along the way.

Paul Giamatti plays Mike Flaherty, a small town lawyer who’s nice to the point of having his practice start to fail. He seems to deal mostly with the elderly and doesn’t charge exorbitant fees so he attracts them like a 4:00 buffet dinner or Sunday afternoon bingo game. He has a loving, no nonsense wife (Ryan), a cute daughter and his life is pretty normal except for the fact Mike doesn’t like to open up in stressful situations or ask for help. In his spare time he coaches the high school wrestling team with his law partner Vigman (Tambor). He’s soon presented with an opportunity to take over the estate of a grumpy old man named Leo (Young) and if he does so, can keep $1500.00 per month to himself. He warily stumbles into the offer with the understanding he will look after the old man at the house he owns and wants to die in, but things get complicated.

Shortly after taking on the care of Leo a young Jeff Spicoli look alike named Kyle (Shaffer) shows up looking for the grandfather he never knew. Kyle’s deadbeat mother who hasn’t even seen her father in over 20 years is in a long rehab stint and Kyle has no place to go. Since Mike has moved Leo to a retirement home, he soon finds himself stuck with Kyle. As we learn more about Kyle, we see he’s a nice, earnest kid who has a bit of a dark rebellious side. We also learn he was the number two ranked wrestler in the state of Ohio where he’s from. Mike invests himself with Kyle as his wrestling team is awful and Kyle is a perfect ringer to bring in, but soon they forge a father/son bond that finds itself tested throughout.

I genuinely like “Win Win” but it feels a little half-cooked. There’s too many chaacters and I didn’t really see the point of having some of them along. Bobby Canivale plays Mike best friend Terry and he’s a great comic foil but his role felt like a bit of a device designed to lift the mood. Tambor’s character also serves the same purpose and he disappears about three quarters of the way through the film. I like the way McCarthy has constructed a Hal Ashby-like film where characters have many dimensions, desire to do right but make mistakes even though they have the best intentions. But here, it felt like Mike is treated rather unfairly by the end of the film. It’s tough to walk the line between characters who aren’t black and white but I felt as though the film stumbles a bit in that area.

Overall though, “Win Win” is a nice little indie drama. The wrestling plot line is fun and exciting and unknown actor Shaffer as Kyle is one of those “where did this guy come from!” kind of special performances. I think “Win Win” will be a successful film for people of all ages, I just thought it missed the mark a little here and there.

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