Dialogue Review – Win Win

Brandi Sperry: Thomas McCarthy has developed an interesting career for himself. He’s an actor with the qualities and the resume of a “that guy”—as in, “hey, it’s that guy…you know, that guy from the last season of The Wire.” Likable and talented, but not a household name. But he’s also becoming quite an accomplished filmmaker. His third film is Win Win, starring Paul Giamatti and Amy Ryan, and it goes into wide release today. I’m a big fan of McCarthy’s first two films, The Station Agent and The Visitor, and looked forward to watching his tale of a lawyer by day, high school wrestling coach by later-in-the-day and his family connecting with an unexpected houseguest.

Allen Almachar: Giamatti plays Mike Flaherty, a regular Joe living in small town, U.S.A. He has a loving and tough as nails wife, Jackie (Ryan), and two beautiful daughters. He drives a nice minivan, lives in a nice home, goes jogging to help calm his anxiety, practices as a lawyer and as a high school wrestling coach during his off hours. To say that Mike has woven a nice life for himself would be putting it correctly.

However, things have been running tough for Flaherty and his family. His practice is suffering, he’s not working with enough clients, and the family bills are starting to pile up. This puts Mike in a tough position: overall, he is a good man with good morals, but when push comes to shove he decides to bend the rules to help get some money. He does this by convincing a judge to be the legal guardian of his client, Leo Poplar (Burt Young). Leo is unfit to live by himself, and has become estranged from his daughter. Mike takes Leo under his custody, puts him in a care facility to avoid the responsibility, and pockets $1500 every month. On the outside, this seems to be a perfect (albeit morally wrong) little scheme he’s put together.

That is, until Kyle (Alex Shaffer) shows up.

Brandi: Here’s where I want to veer off into praising Shaffer, but I’ll control myself for a bit longer while we get this plot-description bit down. Kyle is the son of Leo’s estranged daughter, and he’s run away and come looking for his grandfather. If describing him as a runaway makes Kyle seem dramatic…he’s not. Mike finds Kyle sitting on Leo’s doorstep, and then takes him to the retirement home. Kyle remains stoic and casual throughout the interaction.

We can see that things are going to get complicated for Mike with Kyle in the picture, maybe before he does. One of the reasons Mike’s practice isn’t lucrative is that he specifically practices elder care law, and he seems to genuinely care about helping people. It makes it easy for us to like him, even as he follows through with this scheme and keeps it hidden from Jackie, and from his best friend, the affable but slightly bitter recently-divorced Terry (Bobby Canavale, always a treat). I wanted him to put things right before they escalated, but, of course, half of our plot would disappear if he did that.

Allen: Slowly but surely, Kyle integrates himself with Mike’s family. With no other attachments of his own and seemingly alone to care for himself, Mike and Jackie decide to take him under their wing, having him stay in their basement until he can figure out what he wants to do. Well, turns out that what he wants to do is to go to high school in this small town and join Mike’s wrestling team, as it is revealed pretty early on that Kyle is one hell of a wrestler. The rest of the film involves Mike’s family eventually accepting Kyle into their circle and considering him one of their own, even while Kyle’s unstable mother attempts to gain his and Leo’s custody, and take back the monthly check that Mike had been collecting.

I think this is a good turn for Paul Giamatti. Thinking back at his career, he seems to be drawn toward characters that are lonely, nebbish, and introverted. It’s nice to see him take a role where he can play an everyday kind of a person, the kind that you can see walking down the street. What he wants is simple enough and he has good intentions, albeit done in the wrong fashion. Giamatti brings a nice dose of simplicity to his performance; he’s not trying to go over the top, as stories like these can sometimes do, but keeping it grounded while being entertaining at the same time.

Brandi: I agree, this is a nice role for Giamatti and he plays it perfectly. Pretty much everyone in the film plays their roles perfectly, actually. It’s no surprise that Amy Ryan is fantastic as Jackie; she’s always fantastic. She balances the character’s worry for a disruption to her family’s daily life and what might come along with this troubled kid versus her growing affection for Kyle incredibly well. And I mentioned before, Alex Shaffer is just wonderful as Kyle, in his very first film role.


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Brandi is one of those people who worries about kids these days not appreciating black and white films. She also admires great moments of subtlety, since she has no idea how to be subtle herself.

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