Film Review: Win Win

Win Win is one of those rare double victories, an uplifting sports story that avoids underdog sports cliches.

 Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) is a lawyer and volunteer wrestling coach struggling to make ends meet. An opportunity to make some extra cash of an elderly client arises, and a double payday occurs when his grandson (Alex Shaffer) turns out to be a star wrestler. But everything threatens to come crashing down when the boy’s ex-junkie mother (Melanie Lynskey) turns up straight out of rehab and flat broke.

 The Station Agent and The Visitor were back-to-back victories for the little guy for director Thomas McCarthy, and he’s notched another triumph with Win-Win. McCarthy has a real knack for bringing together distinct characters who show the strength of surrogate families. And he always fills those roles with talented under-the- radar actors. If this had been a mainstream Hollywood movie (think Greg Kinnear instead of Giamatti and Zac Efron for Shaffer) the teenagers would be spouting moralising dialogue and the film would be full of underdog sporting cliches.

 Giamatti himself follows up Barney’s Version with another solid and layered performance. And his supporting cast deliver nicely timed patches of humour to contrast the family drama, especially Bobby Cannavale who plays best friend Terry. Lynskey does well with what is pretty much the villain of the piece, and Shaffer is a standout in his debut feature. If his fight scenes feel authentic, you’re right. He was a high school wrestling star until he broke his L5 vertebrae.

 The only down side is the abrupt ending. After spending so long with such real characters it’s a shame we don’t get to see how life plays out a bit longer. But that is a rarity nowadays, a movie leaving you wanting more.

 Giamatti leads a strong ensemble cast in this offbeat and spirited tale of redemption. This was recently featured at the International Film Festival, and if you enjoyed the likes of Little Miss Sunshine you don’t want to miss this winner again.

 Clayton Barnett

 Watch the trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ci_I6n2j5Uw