Tuesday, April 5, 2011

WIN WIN (2011)

What Paul Giamatti may lack in range (see THE ILLUSIONIST, however, for the best example of an exception) he makes up for with rich, humanistic shadings.  In director/screenwriter Tom McCarthy’s latest offbeat dramatic comedy, Giamatti plays Mike Flaherty, a New Jersey lawyer with a thinning practice who moonlights as a high school wrestling coach.  To help pay bills Flaherty becomes guardian to Leo Poplar (Burt Young), an elderly client declared legally incompetent.  But rather than maintain Poplar’s household as stipulated by the court, the overstretched Flaherty puts his client in a retirement home and collects the monthly guardian stipend.  Kyle (Alex Shaffer), the teenage son of Poplar’s estranged daughter, turns up hoping to live with his grandfather.  Flaherty and his no-nonsense wife Jackie (the wonderful Amy Ryan) take Kyle in to their home until they track down the boy’s mother.  Flaherty discovers that Kyle has exceptional skill as a wrestler and enlists him on his ragtag wrestling squad.  Kyle begins to thrive and Flaherty starts to feel his life turning around.  And then Cindy (Melanie Lynskey), Poplar’s ne’er-do-well daughter and Kyle’s mother, arrives hoping to reconcile with her son and take over her father’s guardianship and its monthly stipend.  Director McCarthy never overplays a scene nor goes for easy resolution, and he has a gifted cast that makes the most of this directorial strength.  Like filmmaking peer Alexander Payne, McCarthy chronicles the trials and tribulations of the middle class but with more warmth and less bite.  And the muted tone of the film rings true.  The underused Jeffrey Tambor and overused Bobby Cannavale round out the strong supporting cast.  Giamatti and Ryan are pitch-perfect, and Lynskey does much with an underwritten role.  However, the real find here is Shaffer, whose performance as the monosyllabic Kyle is unaffected, at times opaque, and always recognizable as a teenager.

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