MOVIECUBE — OCTOBER 2013 — ORIGINAL
Small town attorney Mike Flaherty is having a hard time keeping his business afloat. Sharing an office with an equally worn-down accountant Vig, they curse at how much it will cost if they want to have their old, about-to-blow-up-anytime boiler fixed. However, both Mike and Vig have something they can do to escape once in a while—coaching a local high school’s wrestling team. At home, Mike’s tough, outspoken wife Jackie is not aware of her husband’s struggles and tries to take care of their two children the best she can, with profanities coming out of her mouth a little bit too frequently.
One of Mike’s clients is an old man slowly sliding into dementia, Leo Poplar. Leo wishes to stay in his house, yet the state needs him to have a guardian in order to do so. The thing is, Leo is loaded. A guardian will get a monthly stipend of $1,500, and Mike sure can use the money. Perhaps benefiting from a good reputation and practicing law in a small town, the judge then lets Mike act as Leo’s guardian. In comes Kyle Timmons, Leo’s teenage grandson who he has never met. Though Mike is a bit apprehensive at first, Kyle turns out to be a more-than-okay wrestler, a champion he desperately needs to put his team’s losing streak to an end.
Director Thomas McCarthy used to wrestle in high school himself. He and his childhood friend and fellow teammate Joe Tiboni both sucked, though. Yet this doesn’t stop them from spending years mulling over the idea of making a movie based on high school wrestling, and it results in a simple, down-to-earth yet truly memorable dramedy Win Win, and the film sure benefits from its modesty. There are conflicts, there are dramatic turns, there are amusing characters, but nothing is overstated, and we are no less invested in the story. But of course to get invested in the story, everything starts with the characters.
It might be predictable to see Paul Giamatti in this kind of role, an everyman struggling to make ends meet and eventually resorting into something a little less honorable. But there’s no denying that he does suit the role, and he speaks to you in a personal, relatable way. Jeffrey Tambor and Bobby Cannavale are excellent comic accompaniments, forming a likeable loser trio with Giamatti’s Mike. However, in the center is newcomer Alex Shaffer, who was a successful wrestler himself (until an accident later ruined his wrestling career), then 17 years old.
Without any acting experience to back him up, Shaffer wowed the filmmakers enough to give him the job. And yes it proves that sometimes it’s not solely about acting, but more about persona. There is still something lacking about Shaffer’s performance, but the audience doesn’t really mind, because the guy is charming, he’s trustable. One of the most refreshing things about this film is actually how Kyle’s character is so kind, so genuine. In a way, he’s just like any other ordinary teenagers—he’s laconic, he runs away from home, he smokes. But he is not rebellious in an obnoxious way, he doesn’t loudly seek attention like most teenage movie roles do. On the contrary, he’s just… nice. And it’s refreshing to see nice once in a while.
Some people probably think that the whole film is too sweet, and—like Kyle’s character—too nice. But that’s what I find so charming about it, the fact that it is nice, simple and humanist without being saccharine.
Note: Karamel Kinema’s first pick for this month’s MovieCube and mine has a couple of things in common other than their theme—both were released in 2011 and perfectly closed with songs by The National. Hers is About Today while mine is Think You Can Wait.