Win Win is a film that starts off both quick and boring. The plot revolves around Mike Flaherty (played by Paul Giamatti), a lawyer, high school wrestling coach and father of two in suburban New Jersey. The character Mike Flaherty is a generic but kind schlubb, who battles to search for meaning and security in his adult life. He is accompanied by his wife, Jackie, who is nagging and overprotective — but god damn you gotta love her — his best friend Terry, who is recently divorced and sort of pathetic — but god damn you gotta love him — and his co-worker and assistant wrestling coach, Stephen, who might be in the movie to contrast the brashness of Terry, but also might be in movie as an excuse to cast Jeffrey Tambor as something. Though the supporting cast is simple, they work well together. Thomas McCarthy, the director, did a good job of showing Mike’s constricted life by having Jackie say something like, “That is final, Mike there will no smoking in my house,” for every time that Terry says something like, “Come on, dude, it’s time to forget all that and think about yourself for once.” These molds of characters are the norm in light-hearted adult dramas, and they ease the viewer comfortably into the beginning of Win Win.
The conflict begins when Mike decides to become the guardian of an elderly, demented man named Leo, so that he can pocket Leo’s monthly government stipend. Instead of taking care of Leo at home, like he claimed he would, Mike checks Leo into a nursing home so that he can reap the benefits of Leo’s monthly check without having to do any extra work. It all goes fine for a while until Kyle, the son of Leo’s long lost daughter and a fallen angel of sorts, arrives in town looking to be taken care of by his grandpa. Mike has no choice and decides to take Kyle in, but Jackie isn’t so sure that this cigarette smoking, bleach blonde bastard child is right for the Flaherty family. Over the course of a few days, Kyle displays that he is not so bad and is, in fact, an excellent wrestler. He kicks all the kids’ asses, teaches Mike and Terry a thing or two about maturity, wins over Jackie with his sensitive side and blows everyone away with how muscular and tattooed he is at the young age of 16. Just as Kyle reaches the peak of his awesomeness, two thirds of the way through the film, his drug addict mom comes to town looking for him and things start to get interesting.
At that point, Win Win becomes much more enjoyable because the conflict starts to go somewhere. Soon, Kyle’s mom not only wants to take him away from his new, successful life in New Jersey, but Mike faces the loss of his career and family because of his selfish handling of Leo’s custody. A great amount of tension builds up during this part of the film, and though Mike eventually gets off easy, the resolution of the story still kept me guessing until the end. The payoff at the finale of the film is, like the beginning, quick and boring, but the half hour long build to the ending redeemed Win Win in my eyes, and was by far the film’s most interesting part.
The message behind Win Win shows us how immature and irresponsible modern Americans are, and I admire Thomas McCarthy for presenting this message in a film that is not overly violent or melodramatic. He fell short of making a great movie, though, because he included too much information to properly flesh out the heaviest aspects of the plot. Kyle’s wrestling and Mike’s midlife crisis are two examples of plots that receive too much attention at the beginning of the story, only to be completely abandoned once the conflict between Mike and Kyle’s mother really gets going. To put it bluntly, the middle of the film is a waste of time and the entire thing suffers because of it. Regardless of this fault, I recommend this movie because it looks good, contains heartfelt performances, is better than other movies that are currently in theatres and has a story that is interesting even though it does not reach its full potential.