WIN WIN (2011)

TMG Scale 10.0
Starring Paul Giamatti,  and a host of true and solid real “star” actors like Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale,  Jeffrey Tambor, Burt Young and hot new star Alex Shaffer

The Movie Guy does not give out 10.o ratings often, easily or lightly. This film is a winner in every way…and not the Charlie Sheen style of “winner.” While Giamatti’s last big effort, Barney’s Version (2011) was a bit arrogant and self absorbed, his character this time was down to earth and real.  The messages were generous, kind and plentiful. It’s hard to know where to start.

Mike Flaherty (Giamatti) is a middle aged good Dad, a pragmatic husband, and struggling general practice lawyer in New Providence, New Jersey.  He also scrapes to keep together a losing wrestling team at the local high school. His motivation is partly because he is a genuinely good guy, but also perhaps because while competitive, he  left unfinished success on the mat at his own in high school. We all left some things unaccomplished in high school.  On that point alone,  I was excited to see high school wrestling get its share of adulation in a film.  Basketball often has; baseball more than I can count; football many times; and soccer, for sure. Wrestlers are a special tough breed and close knit society of guys that are often hard to understand.  For myself, I never really wanted to get that close to a guy sweatier and hairier than me. But like any sport, winning at wrestling has its emotional highs.  For me,  that peaked in a high school gym class when I was laughingly selected to wrestle my buddy Jeff, 6′ 4′  240 and eventual starting tackle for Notre Dame. To Jeff”s surprise, the gym coach who was looking for blood (mine), and  all my peers, I beat him.  Jeff is now one of the smartest doctors in the country and chief at Mayo’s or somewhere. But for one minute in high school, I was on top.  It was sheer grit and determination. The determination to win, no matter the personal cost,  is certainly a strong message throughout this film.

Stressed to pay his monthly bills, Flaherty takes on Leo, a client with first stage dementia as his legal guardian.  The guardianship pays him $1500 a month. Leo’s grandson Kyle (Shaffer)  suddenly appears in town having run away from his drug addicted and neglectful mother. It turns out the apparently troubled young Kyle is really just a kid in need of love. He looks and talks much like Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), but is much more endearing.  Fortuitously, Kyle was also an all star state wrestler  back home. It is hard to tell if Mike is mentoring Kyle or Kyle is mentoring Mike. Mike’s wife Jackie (Ryan) shows the sort of iron will and moral barometer we saw in Sandra Bullock in The Blindside (2009). I especially liked the message interwoven that every kid just needs to be loved and have a success at something. I think if every kid alive got to just once feel the thrill of scoring a touchdown, hitting a home run or pinning someone to a mat, they would build upon that success many times over. Maybe it is wrestling for some kids. Maybe it is being a high school tutor. Perhaps winning a debate championship or engineering award. We all want to feel successful and loved.

As we learn from the opening scene, kids really do pay close attention to what their adult role models both do and say. So do even old men with dementia. We can all learn from each other but it has to start with mutual respect. We know all along that Mike has good intentions with Leo, Kyle  and his own family. He is doing the right things. For better or worse though, it was all set in motion by a selfish act rather than a selfless one. I am not going to ruin this movie for you.  See it yourself. Then I urge you to discuss it with your spouse and your kids and and talk about the lessons learned.  The value will be in the discussion—not in deciding who was right and wrong. It will be a WIN WIN for everyone.

Joy Lynn: I fully agree with TMG on this one.  This is a down to earth and real movie.  From what I read about writer/director Tom McCarthy, he too is a down to earth real guy.  The casting and acting is excellent.  There are several star actors in this film as well as few complete unknowns.   Win Win is Alex Shaffer’s first film ever!  He is a high school senior in New Jersey. His passion is wrestling and has won two time regional championships, having only acting in a few elementary school plays.   A friend of his sent him a text message about the auditions for a wrestler.   What a cool story!   Another not so well known young actor is David Thompson who is also a high school wrestler and does occasional stand up comic gigs.  Both boys did a great job in their respective roles.

Paul Giamatti’s performance as Mike Flaherty is superb.  He nails the role perfectively.  But, it is Bobby Cannavale who steals the show as Terry,  Mike’s divorced and crazy friend. This is a great film worth your time.  Don’t let this one sneak by you.

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