Win Win
Zach Davis

Directed by: Thomas McCarthy

Starring: Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Alex Shaffer, Bobby Cannavale, Jeffrey Tambor, Burt Young, and Melanie Lynskey

I’m a fan of Thomas McCarthy’s two previous works, The Visitor and The Station Agent, but Win Win just doesn't work for me.  McCarthy is much more a writer than a director.  He relies heavily on original down-to-earth characters in most of his films, and this is exactly what Win Win sorely lacks.  The characters are all disingenuous.  Because of this, the film falls short of the mark.

Mike (Paul Giamatti) is a lawyer and a high school wrestling coach struggling in both careers, and it's taking a toll on his wallet.  However, he keeps his financial woes secret from his wife Jackie (Amy Ryan).  Mike’s client Leo (Burt Young) has dementia and needs round-the-clock care but does not want to go to an assisted living facility.  Mike is trying to keep Leo from losing his independence but fails to convince the courts that he can take care of himself.  When Mike learns that there is a stipend for taking care of Leo, he volunteers to personally take the job.  Even though Mike takes the stipend and agrees to care for his client, he puts Leo in a cheap assisted living facility which violates the terms of their agreement. 

Sold on the idea of coming to live with his grandfather Leo, Kyle (Alex Shaffer) runs away from his mother Cindy (Melanie Lynskey), a woman strung out on drugs.  Arriving at a vacant house given Leo's situation, Kyle decides to break into his grandfather's home, and the police end up notifying Mike of what’s transpired.  Mike decides to take the boy into his home though he has every intention of sending him back to his mother.  Unable reach the boy’s mom who is allegedly in rehab, Mike and his wife Jackie take an interest in Kyle.  When he learns that Kyle is a talented wrestler, Mike places Kyle on his wrestling team.

All seems to be going well for Mike, but it becomes increasingly apparent that Kyle has a very troubled past.  With the help of his best friend and assistant coach Terry (Bobby Cannavale), Mike investigates Kyle's past and begins to really get to know the kid whom he's brought into his home.  Things take a dramatic turn when Kyle's mother Cindy (Melanie Lynskey) arrives and is eager to challenge the financial arrangement Mike has in place with her father as well as the newfound bond he has with her son.

Win Win is undoubtedly a character piece, but it suffices to say that we get a mixed bag of characters.  As Mike Flaherty, Paul Giamatti does a fine job.  However, his character is just unlikeable and shallow.  This is a main character with which the audience ultimately won't be able to empathize or connect.  As Mike's wife Jackie, Amy Ryan portrays a very one-dimensional character that just doesn’t offer much as the movie plays out through no fault of her own. 

As Kyle Timmons, Alex Shaffer does not perform his part well at all.  It feels like Shaffer is reading straight from the script whenever he's on screen.  His awful performance certainly ruined my suspension of disbelief.  As Terry Delfino, Bobby Cannavale provides the film's comic relief and manages to offer the only worthwhile character with which the audience can actually connect.  Despite a solid supporting performance, Cannavale's character is still one-dimensional and not enough to save the film.

Alas, Win Win is a character piece with very little character.  The film is ill-developed and underwhelming.  I recommend some whiskey sours to help you get through this one.  Win Win gets a 0.09% rating.