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Monday, April 18, 2011  

M. Ovie Reviews: Win Win

I actually saw this movie by accident.

What I wanted to see was Hanna. Sometime before nine PM, I checked the movie times in my area and everything was either really late or really far away, but somehow I tricked myself into thinking that it started at my third-closest theater at 10:10, when in fact that was the starting time at my sixth-closest theater, and when I got to the third-closest theater in time for a 10:10 showing that was actually at 10:45, I was like, screw that, it's Monday, and bought a ticket to the 10:05 showing of Win Win instead. If nothing else, I figured the optimistic title might make for a good hook for the story of how I ended up seeing it.

So in this movie, Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) has problems, as every protagonist played by Paul Giamatti always does. His small-town family law practice is about to go under, he's going to need to replace the boiler in his office building before it blows up, the high school wrestling team he coaches sucks wind, his health isn't the greatest, and his best friend Terry, played by Bobby Cannavale, appears to have wandered in from some other, much wackier, movie. Or possibly a bad old sitcom.

But just like we know any movie protagonist with a perfect life is going to run into some serious problems in the first twenty minutes, we also know that a movie protagonist who starts out with serious problems is going to be presented with a rare opportunity to fix at least some of them. Which, not to give too much away, is more or less what happens to Mike. The title, although the non-Cannavale parts of the movie are too subtle to hit us over the head with it, has to do with the fact that in so doing, he finds himself in a position to make the world a better place for some of the people around him.

The only problem is that for all this to happen, he also had to do something really shitty. So it's more like a win-win-lose thing.

I defy you to find a review of a Paul Giamatti movie that doesn't comment on his remarkable physiognomy, and I'm now discovering that the reason for that that it's pretty much impossible not to. It's riveting to just stare at that live-action Homer Simpson mug of his for hours, if only to figure out how the damn thing works. In Win Win, which is pretty much a quiet, living-room dramedy, he mostly holds it tightly in check, unsheathing those startling incisors only rarely and keeping his eyeballs inside his skull eighty-nine percent of the time.

Amy Ryan as Mike's wife Jackie is unsurprisingly fantastic and real, almost enough to forgive her for being gone from The Office for so long. Jeffrey Tambor is Mike's officemate/assistant coach who goes through the movie in a such a sad fog you end up wondering who's going to fix his problems. Bobby Cannavale is, well, see above. But the catalyst for a lot of what happens is the wrestling prodigy played by Alex Shaffer, a skinny, pale kid with a bleached mop who doesn't seem like anything at all until he gets into the ring, and then you get home and see on IMDb that he won the New Jersey state wrestling championship last year and you're not really surprised. The kid isn't called upon to do much acting, largely because teenagers don't do much acting, but he does pretty well with what he's given. He's so taciturn and reticent that he comes off sullen and disengaged, although he slowly proves himself anything but. I can relate to that, except for the second part.

Don't worry, this isn't a wrestling movie, or even a sports movie. The sport could have been anything, up to and including male solo synchronized swimming, without taking away from what it's really about, which is trying to do the right thing for as many people as possible. Mike begins and ends the movie being asked how he is, and at the end, I think he's telling the truth.

I still want to see Hanna, though.

posted by M. Giant 12:00 PM 0 comments


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