Sunday, March 13, 2011

Win Win – Movie Review



This morning in my movie class, we saw the comedy/drama “Win Win” starring Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan and Jeffrey Tambor. 



After a lawyer tries to save his failing practice by making some extra money as the guardian of an incapacitated elderly man, he learns that the man’s teenage grandson is a champion wrestler who can also help the local high school team become a winner – but when the boy’s mother finally tries to get into the act, will the lawyer still be able to keep both his practice and his new star wrestler?



Mike (Giamatti) has finally reached the point where he’s suffering panic attacks while jogging because he’s so stressed about his failing New Jersey law practice going under and how it will ultimately impact not only his career, but also, his family.  When a court ruling deems one of his elderly clients (Burt Young) mentally incapacitated due to early onset dementia, Mike sees this as an opportunity to boost his income by becoming the old man’s legal guardian.  Since the man’s closest blood relative turns out to be a grown daughter who is a drifter currently registered in a drug treatment program, the court decides that it is in the man’s best interests to award Mike the guardianship. 


Once Mike begins his guardianship duties, he suddenly discovers the old man has a grandson, Kyle (Alex Shaffer), an oddball teenager with obviously dyed blonde hair who has made a solo trek from Ohio to be with his grandfather – without his mother’s knowledge or permission.  Since Kyle’s grandfather has been moved into an assisted living facility, Mike and his wife Jackie (Ryan) reluctantly decide to take him in to live in their basement for a while.  Earning extra money on the side as a high school wrestling coach, Mike brings Kyle along to some of his team’s practices and their matches.  Upon learning that Kyle is a championship wrestler, Mike gets approval from the school to enter him as a student so that he can be on the team.  


Suddenly, Kyle’s mother shows up -- fresh from rehab, she wants both her son and her father back, especially because she knows that her father has plenty of money.  Securing a lawyer, she takes Mike to court to win legal guardianship of her father’s estate so she can take care of both herself and her son – however, once Kyle makes it known that he wants nothing to do with his mother, Mike goes to battle her in court to win guardianship of Kyle as well.  But will Mike risk both his own family and law practice in order to do so? 




As a so-called “dramedy” (a drama-comedy), this film’s reputation preceded it as “Win Win” was said to have been quite the hit at some film festivals, including and especially Sundance.  The company distributing this movie is strongly hoping that it will eventually turn out to be this year’s “Little Miss Sunshine”.  While the majority of the class seemed to really enjoy “Win Win” quite a good deal, I was considerably more lukewarm in my own personal reaction.  Although not a bad film, I just felt that it was more mildly amusing than actually funny at the moments when it tried to be a comedy and a little too contrived at certain plot points when it attempted to be a drama. 


Giamatti, as with almost any film he’s in, always remains the most interesting thing to watch on screen.  Unfortunately, he does not always pick the best scripts, especially of late; while a highly unusual story, “Win Win” falls into that category, in my opinion, simply because it’s a little too bland for my taste, despite occasional attempts to spice things up a bit.  One example of this, without giving too much of the story away, is that the character of Mike, although the protagonist, is revealed to be no saint and when we realize he’s something of a scammer trying to beat the system, you begin to wonder why you’re rooting for the guy in the first place.


After the screening, our instructor informed us that the young man who played Kyle is not really a professional actor, however, he is an accomplished high school wrestler in real life.  The filmmakers decided to go the route of hiring a real wrestler whom they would teach to act (rather than hire an actor whom they would teach to wrestle) to add an element of realism to the movie; they wanted to make sure that the wrestling scenes looked truly authentic, so they thought they would be better off with an “acting wrestler” rather than a “wrestling actor”. 


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