Sometimes it’s nice to watch a movie that isn’t about how it looks or exposing how terrible it is to be a human being. There are movies that are straight forward, charming, and funny with just a little easy-to-use message like “do the right thing” or “don’t lie.” Win Win (2011) is like that. There’s a little bit of the difficulties of navigating human existence—the part where it costs money to do things—but the damage isn’t so deep that it makes people hit each other with golf clubs for no reason. How gratifying.
Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) is a pillar of his New Jersey community, but pillaring doesn’t pay the bills. He’s an attorney and the work is light. He’s basically keeping this from his wife Jackie (Amy Ryan) and has only his brash buddy Terry (Bobby Cannavale) to confide in. He’s having panic attacks from the stress. It doesn’t help that the wrestling team he coaches is absolutely terrible. But he’s got one client, Leo (Burt Young), who is suffering from dementia and requires a guardian. Instead of letting the state become the guardian (which would result in putting Leo in a home), Mike agrees to be Leo’s guardian, taking the $1,500 per month to alleviate his money troubles. Then he put Leo in a home. But hey, he’s demented, what could go wrong? Leo’s grandson, Kyle (Alex Shaffer), arrives out of nowhere to stay with him while his mother, Leo’s daughter, Cindy (Melanie Lynskey), is in rehab. So, Mike takes him in. In quick time, Mike finds out that Kyle is an incredibly talented wrestler and, when he joins the team, turns the whole season around. But will that one little indiscretion come back to haunt Mike? Yes.
This is a lovely story from writer/director Thomas McCarthy (he’s also an actor, you know him). Can anybody get enough of a good family taking in a sweet, but troubled teenager and developing a strong bond that makes everyone happy? I hope not. When I saw Paul Giamatti in the lead role, I thought that I was in for something a little dramatic. Like The Winning Season (2009) with Sam Rockwell, you knew that was going to have some depth. But not too much, just enough to keep it from being unbearably sappy. Win Win is even shallower than The Winning Season and just as much fun.
The sports side of the movie is fine. It’s about wrestling, which has only a small crap margin of which I could care less. Still, it made that sport slightly interesting from a high school perspective. It’s not clear how old Kyle is, but there are scholarships on the line even though he looks like he’s 15. Hey, go with it, it’s a life-affirming sports film about people who learn valuable lessons about honesty and stuff. It isn’t going to split your sides, but it’ll tickle your fancy. It won’t make you weep, but you can keep your dignity. That’s worth renting.