Tom McCarthy is a young gifted artist - actor, writer, director - who has gifted us in the past with such memorable small films as writer/director of 'The Visitor', 'The Station Agent', and as writer for 'Up'. He deals with simple people encountering complex problems and shows us how cooperative relationships make life OK. McCarthy both wrote (with Joe Tiboni) and directed WIN WIN and if there were two words that would best describe this film the title supplies them. It is real, touching without becoming saccharine, and populated by a cast of some very fine actors who deliver a very human story.
Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) is a sown on his luck lawyer in poor economic times who deals with elderly people as clients. His loyal wife Jackie (Amy Ryan) keeps their small house in Providence, New Jersey (McCarthy's home town, by the way) in order, managing their two daughters, the funky Abby (Clare Foley) and Stella (Penelope Kindred), in tow. One of Mike's clients Leo Poplar (Burt Young) is entering early senility and the court wants him placed in a home. Discovering that Leo pays good money for a guardian Mike accepts guardianship but moves Leo into a rest home, keeping his house locked up. Mike discovers a young 16 year old kid on Leo's doorstep and learns that the lad is Kyle (Alex Schaffer), Leo's grandson form Ohio who has run away from home because his mother (Melanie Lynskey) is in rehab and Kyle has escaped the abuse of her boyfriend. Kyle is taken in to the Flaherty family (tough Jackie melts and insists they support him). What Mike discovers is that Kyle is a Wrestling Champion and Mike happens to coach the high school wrestling team with his law partner Stephen Vigman (Jeffrey Tambor) and Mike's buddy Terry Delfino (Bobby Cannavale). Kyle's presence eventually leads the losing team to a winning position: Kyle is sensitive to the nerdy loser Stemler (David Thompson) and boosts the entire team's spirit. Problems arise: Cindy comes to town to claim Leo (and get his money) and hires lawyer Eleanor (Margo Martindale) to meet her aims. Mike's finagling of Leo's money backfires, Kyle loses faith in his new family, Leo only wants to go to his home, and all things seem to fall apart until unexpected changes occur in each of the characters.
Some viewers will see this as yet another 'Blind Side' type movie - and that is a Positive! Too few films deal with the sanctity of the family and the manner in which true family relationships can improve society at large. Tom McCarthy has managed to create a tender, humorous, realistic, and deeply touching film. Paul Giamatti and Amy Ryan once again prove they are among our finest actors, but it the surprise debut of Alex Schaffer, a 17 year old lad who has been a wrestler but has no prior acting credits, that makes this film glow. The cameos by Burt Young, Jeffrey Tambor, Bobby Cannavale, Melanie Lynskey, and Margo Martindale along with all the other minor characters are superb. This is a film to restore faith in human kindness - a film that would benefit time together with youngsters and adults to observe how the world can tick. Grady Harp, August 11