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Sundance 2011: Win Win

January 25, 2011

Catina Martinez-Hadley returns to bring us a review of the new film by actor/writer/director, Tom McCarthy (“The Station Agent” & “The Visitor”), a comedy that’s already been picked up by Fox Searchlight….


Win Win    

written by: Tom McCarthy (screenplay & story) and Joe Tiboni (story)

produced by: Lisa Maria Falcone, Michael London & Mary Jane Skalski

directed by: Tom McCarthy

not yet rated

106 min.

U.S. release date: March 18, 2011

Our second showing for Sundance started with a lovely reception at the Ogden Convention and Visitor’s Bureau office, hosted by Rooster’s Brewery, a Sundance sponsor.  From the reception, we made our way to Ogden’s Historic Peery’s Egyptian Theater. The film was “Win Win” starring Paul Giamatti (Sideways) and Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone), two Oscar-nominated actors.  

Giamatti plays Mike Flaherty, a struggling New Jersey attorney who moonlights as a wrestling coach at the local high school.  As an attorney, he represents an elderly gentleman, Grandpa Leo (Burt Young aka Paulie from the “Rocky” movies) who requires guardianship because he is in the beginning stages of dementia. Mike sees Leo’s guardianship as the solution to his financial problems and decides to place Leo in an assisted living facility to minimize his own responsibility. Mike does this in spite of Grandpa Leo’s wish to stay in his own house.

The movie struggles to find a good pace in the beginning, and I was unsure how to feel about Mike, sympathetic for his financial struggles or appalled by his willingness to collect a check for Leo’s care while simultaneously filing him away, against Leo’s wishes. 

A seemingly simple solution becomes more complex when Leo’s estranged grandson shows up on his doorstep. Mike and his wife (played by Ryan) end up taking in the teenaged grandson Kyle, played by newcomer, Alex Shaffer.  We find out that his mother (Melanie Lynskey) is at a drug rehab and that he is for the most-part homeless and without guardianship. 

One of the problems that I had with the film is that we are never given a deep enough back-story on Kyle or his mother to understand why he is so damaged. Their stories felt very two-dimensional to me…as though they existed simply to avoid making the situation feel contrived, which it did much of the time.

Just when all seems right with the world, Kyle’s mother shows up to claim guardianship of her father, Leo, as well as her son, who hates her.  Mike accuses the mother of only being interested in Leo because of the guardianship stipend and in turn must face his own hypocrisy. He tries to prevent Kyle’s drug-addicted mom from taking Leo and more importantly Kyle away from a healthy family situation and putting him back into a situation of uncertainty. Again, the dynamics of Kyle’s childhood are never fully revealed which made the story a bit weak.

The film is supporting by performances from Bobby Cannavale, Jeffrey Tambor, and Margo Martindale, and has some solid laughs as well as some stellar acting by both Giamatti and Ryan. My biggest problem with the film was its lack of depth, which never made the story feel completely plausible, though the rest of the audience appeared to genuinely enjoy the film.  

RATING: **1/2


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