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Win Win

2011 film directed by Thomas McCarthy

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A pleasent and well-acted drama.

  • Sep 4, 2011
*** out of ****

"Win Win" is a nice, gentle drama; and I needed that on this particular movie night. It isn't loud, it isn't insulting, and it's actually pretty good at what it does. I suppose I was drawn to it by its cast, but I got out of it much more than just a few performances. I actually invested quite a bit into it. Basically, it takes a perfectly normal story full of perfectly normal people, and engages us through both sympathy and the performances alone. There is a lot that I liked here; enough to make the film a winner. It isn't great, but it's better told than most dramas I've seen this year, and for that, I think it deserves an audience.

The film is about a sport, and that sport is wrestling. I'm not big into sports in general, although when a film about them is well-made, and it had better be for me to enjoy it, I warm up to it pretty easily. Such examples include "Rocky" and "The Wrestler"; and un-examples include "The Blind Side", AKA one of the most overrated "Best Picture Nominations" ever to exist, and pretty much all the "Rocky" sequels. However, "Win Win" has plenty going for it; one of those things its attitude alone, which is a better, more positive one than most PG/PG-13 films out on the market today. I bring the ol' ratings up because this film is rated R, and while I'm at it, I might as well assure parents that this film is, by no means, inappropriate to show to anyone over at least eleven or twelve. It's entertaining and well-written, with enough charm to help me forgive it of its little imperfections. I wouldn't call it innocent, but it doesn't earn its R-rating; which all-together proves once again that the MPAA cannot be trusted when it comes to deciding who gets to see what.

Back to the film, the story revolves around attorney Mike (Paul Giamatti) who is trying so desperately to support his wife (Amy Ryan) and kids financially. To keep his personal-self on track, he's a coach for a local High School wrestling team; one that is terribly unsuccessful, but for Mike to believe in the mere possibility of success is enough.

However, Mike is allowed a second chance at success for his team when troubled teen Kyle (Alex Shaffer) shows up on one of his business client's doorstep claiming to be the older man's grandson. As it turns out, Kyle once wrestled, but had some trouble and was kicked off the team. Now, he too is given another shot; and he becomes the star athlete of Mike's team. This makes both characters very happy; and soon, Mike's family, who takes Kyle in, begins to take a liking to the young man as well. However, Kyle's even-more-troubled junkie mother could be waiting just around the corner, and when she finally comes into the film's narrative, things get complicated.

But how could a film NOT be complicated? This is still a Hollywood film, right? Or at least I believe it is. Of course, it's not the highest budget of high budget films, but it has a good cast, and that's enough for me to believe that it was made by filmmakers with semi-large wallets. The writer and director was Tom McCarthy, who also wrote and directed "The Station Agent" as well as "The Visitor". His films have been praised, and you know what; they deserve it. This is his third feature as a writer-and-director (he co-wrote the Pixar masterpiece "Up", believe it or not), and it's a surprisingly good third film. It's easy to recommend; not a "must-see movie", per se, but I enjoyed watching it, and the cast really makes it work. Giamatti brings his usual humor to the table, while Alex Shaffer impresses as a new-comer, mostly chosen for his wrestling over his acting; making it even more impressive that he actually works in his role.

Jeffrey Tambor and Bobby Cannavale also co-star as fellow coaches of Giamatti's character, and they are both delightful actors in funny, equally delightful roles. The film isn't a performance piece centering on more than one performance, but I do believe that without the actors involved, it would not have been the same. I was never bored; never tired of the clich├ęs that were admittedly present. The characters are likable, the tone is just right, and there's never anyting truly "annoying" when it comes to the flaws. This is a smart drama driven by story, characters, and yes, even drama. It's a rare film for sure. I didn't love it; but I didn't want to. To like a film such as this one might as well be enough. And if you go in, and happen to love it; then good for you, because I enjoyed myself too and probably as much as you did. I just find it as hard to love this film as I do to hate it. I mean, how can you hate a film that has a smile on its face pretty much throughout? The answer: you can't. I can't say that "Win Win" is incredibly deep, but at least it goes somewhere. And that was good enough for me.

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More Win Win (film) reviews
review by . August 29, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
If you missed this one in theatres, you probably aren't alone.  I had never heard of it either when we found it on our cable providers on-demand list of new releases, and were sold by the trailer.  This is the kind of quiet movie made for and by adults that gets overlooked in the multi-screen megaplexes--no franchise, no remake, no graphic novel hero, no 3-D action hook means no 15-24 ticket sales means no screens available--a sad commentary on the current state of cinema which we …
review by . March 25, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Star Rating:         So far as I can tell, seeing Win Win truly would be a win win situation; the producers and studio execs will delight at the increase in box office, and you will be watching one of the year’s best films. This is a warm, funny, intelligent, compelling, superbly cast treasure – one of those rare films in which a brain and a heart are at work. Like last year’s brilliant The Kids Are All Right, it tells a story that isn’t idealized …
review by . March 17, 2011
       Tom McCarthy’s new film Win Win is a comforting tale for these trying economic times. While the film has its heart in the right place, it ultimately lacks the energy it needs to be a “winner.”      Win Win stars Paul Giamatti as Mike Flaherty, a small-town New Jersey attorney struggling to find clients and work in the recession. Desperate for money to support his wife Jackie (Amy Ryan) and two children, Mike becomes …
review by . March 27, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
More like win/lose
WIN WIN   Written and Directed by Thomas McCarthy   Starring Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale and Alex Shaffer       Abby: Where’s Daddy?   Jackie: He’s running.   Abby: From what?       Thomas McCarthy’s latest film, WIN WIN, is a little movie about regular people in a small town. McCarthy is no stranger to championing the stories of the every man (perhaps best exemplified in his …
review by . March 17, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
'Win Win' 'Two Jews On Film' Agree - This Is One Winning Movie (Video)
'Win Win' directed by Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent & The Visitor) explores the depths and nuances of human relationships and shows us that in certain circumstances, even the most unlikely of characters can form a bond that will last a lifetime.      Attorney Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) is your typical Everyman.  He has a  loving wife Jackie ( brilliant Amy Ryan) and two small kids who adore him.  The only thing Mike loves almost as much …
About the reviewer
Ryan J. Marshall ()
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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From wikipedia:

The film was rated 90% "fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes in March 2011 and, based on 155 reviews, held a 94% favorable rating in January 2012. Its critical consensus states: "Rich, wonderful characters and strong performances populate Win Win, with writer/director Thomas McCarthy continuing to emerge as a great American humanist."[1]
Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave the film 3.5 stars out of 4, calling the film a "gem, hilarious and heartfelt with a tough core that repels all things sappy", and "just about perfect."Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave it 3 out of 4 stars, writing "You have a funny situation, and there's some truth in it and unexpected characters, well-acted, and you may not have a great film but you enjoy watching it."Steven Rea of the Philadelphia Inquirer gave it 3 out of 4 stars, writing "[Giamatti] delivers a marvel of a performance—all the more so because we forget that he is performing." He concluded "Win Win doesn't quite hit the high notes of grace and revelation that The Station Agent and The Visitor achieved, but McCarthy and his able cast pull off a similar mix of humor and pathos, smiles and angst." Daniel Sarath from online blog New In Cinema gave it 4/5, stating "Win Win is visual evidence that a film doesn't have to be pushing boundaries or walking in uncharted territory to stand out from the crowd. As long as you have a talented ...
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