Sunday, March 27, 2011

Review of Win Win

by Jeff Fisher
Host, NHSCA Sports Hour

Director/writer Tom McCarthy has done it again!

Trish and I just saw McCarthy's latest movie Win Win, and we both give it a perfect score or two thumbs up...whichever you prefer to use as your barometer.

The movie is set against the backdrop of the sport of high school wrestling, but at its core, it's another great relationship movie crafted by McCarthy, who also wrote and directed the critically-acclaimed The Visitor.

Win Win is a movie that stars Paul Giamatti, whose character Mike Flaherty is a lawyer moonlighting as a high school wrestling coach at New Providence High School in New Jersey to earn more money.  Faced with the possible loss of his law practice because of financial difficulties, Flaherty decides to become the guardian of one of his client's, Leo Poplar (played by Burt Young of Rocky fame), an older gentleman who is dealing with the onset of dementia.  Flaherty's decision to take care of Poplar is based on the fact that he'll get $1,500 a month to do so.

All is going smoothly for Flaherty until Leo's teenage grandson Kyle Timmons (played by Alex Shaffer) shows-up.  Kyle, who's dealing with a drug addicted, messed-up mom in Ohio, arrives in New Jersey to see his grandfather, who's been moved into an assisted living home by Flaherty.  The financially-straped lawyer made the decision to put Leo in the home, because it's easier on him and his wife Jackie (played by Amy Ryan) and their two kids while trying to put his bills in order.

McCarthy does a great job of developing Flaherty's dilemma, which he keeps secret from his wife.  His inner conflict leads him to tell Kyle that his grandfather wants to be in the assisted living facility, even though Leo has told Flaherty that he wants to live at home.  McCarthy goes to great lengths to build the Flaherty/Kyle relationship that begins with the teenager moving-in to Flaherty's home, even though Jackie isn't happy with the decision.

Kudos to Shaffer, who is making his acting debut, for an engaging performance that wins over the heart of Flaherty's wife.  Shaffer, who actually won a New Jersey high school wrestling championship at Hunterdon Central High School, nails Kyle's life that has been hardened by adults that have let him down.

By the time, Kyle asks Mike to wrestle for the very bad New Providence team, you realize that he's not an ordinary 16-year old.  In his first scene in the wrestling room, Kyle begins preparing the audience for a Disney-like ending.

Mike and his assistant coaches (Jeffrey Tambor and Bobby Cannavale) really come together in a big way in the wrestling room while developing an us against the odds storyline.  Cannavale provides a lot of great comic-relief moments throughout.

Actually there's a lot of great subtle comic moments throughout the film, which has gotten a lot of great reviews since Sundance.

Is there a Hollywood-ending for Kyle and the flawed Mike Flaherty?

I can't tell you that, because you'll be angry at me!

But what I can tell you is you won't be disappointed in the job that McCarthy does in telling a great story through flawed relationships.

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