by Dante Rosario on April 7th, 2011
The Players: Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Alex Shaffer, Bobby Cannavale, Jeffery Tambor, Burt Young, and Melanie Lynskey.
The Game Plan: Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) is the picture of stress and depression, his law firm is struggling and the high school wrestling team he coaches has become used to losing. That is until an opportunity to represent a wealthy elderly man named Leo Poplar (Burt Young), presents itself. Leo who was recently diagnosed with dementia is determined to remain at his home, despite being told by the state that he is required to stay at a retirement facility since he has no next of kin capable of caring for him. Mr. Flaherty agrees to take legal responsibility of Leo, and receives a generous stipend in return, but Mike’s good luck doesn’t end there. Kyle (Alex Shaffer), a peculiar sixteen year old from Ohio has come to New Jersey to live with his grandfather Leo. Recognizing that Leo isn’t fit to look after a teenager, Mike takes Kyle in and soon learns that Kyle is a very talented wrestler with seemingly unlimited potential. The relationship and bond between Mike’s family and Leo’s is tested when Kyle’s drug addicted mother suddenly shows up, fresh out of rehab and looking for her father’s wealth. Faced with another difficult life challenge, Mike must search his own heart in order to make the right decision for his new friends.
Dante’s Thoughts: Thomas McCarthy, who is best known more for his roles in Meet the Parents and 2012, can now add directing one of the years best films of the to his resume. Win Win is a wonderful representation of how people come into our lives and change them for the better, even an unsuspecting withdrawn teenage star wrestler can have a positive impact.
At the beginning of the film, Mike’s life is in a shambles, and he is on the verge of a breakdown, until he meets Kyle and things slowly begin to change. Kyle’s positive influence on Mike’s life has little to do with his athletic abilities as a star wrestler, and everything to do with the breath of fresh air he brings to Mike’s family.
Despite everything Kyle has dealt with since he was kid, he is able to teach Mike that helping others around him, is much more important than anything else in life. Of course this film is a drama, and not everything has a fairytale ending, the arrival of Kyle’s drug addicted mother complicates things, but overall this is a very well told story.
Touchdowns: The acting scores major points in this one. Paul Giamatti leads a solid team with yet another star performance; basically any film this guy is a part of has a chance to be great. The surprise performance though comes from Alex Shaffer in his debut role as Kyle, for as little dialogue as he has Shaffer manages to win the audience over with tremendous character acting. I’m not sure how much wrestling training he’s actually had, but his mannerisms as he stalks around the mat confidently beating his opponents at will, made him look like a real professional.
Penalty: It’s not a major penalty, but there is one small mark against this film. When Cindy (Melanie Lynskey), Kyle’s mother returns, the drama that ensues after seemed a little rushed and it was hard to believe a family situation like the one in this film could play out in the legal system in reality.
Game Winner: Win Win is a well-acted heart warming story that is easily one of the years first must see films.