Monday November 21, 2011
Ever since American Splendor and Sideways, Paul Giamatti has become one of my favorite actors. He's been solid in pretty much every movie since then, though he's never really recaptured the subtle magic of those two films. He comes pretty close though in Win Win as the struggling every day man that he seems to excel in playing. Here he plays Mike, a mediocre lawyer whose practice is floundering. Desperate for the money, he becomes the legal guardian of Leo, an elderly client who isn't all there, for a $1500 a month fee only to stick him into a nursing home immediately after. Mike isn't a villain though; he's simply a flawed man who needs the money and probably honestly believe Leo is better off in a nursing home anyways despite his protestations.
A little twist is added to Mike's life when Kyle, Leo's teenage grandson, shows up one day all the way from Ohio to live with the old man. Mike has no choice but to take Kyle in until he returns back home. Except Kyle doesn't go back home and spends the rest of the movie living with Mike and his family. Oh by the way, Mike is a high school wrestling coach and Kyle just happens to be a really good wrestler. Mike takes on the father teacher role that Kyle never had while Kyle provides an escape for Mike's disappointments in life. The story is nice and tight with the familiar turning points, the neglectful mother unexpectedly showing up wanting her son back, the growing bond between Mike and Kyle and the inevitable strife between them. Perhaps the story is a little formulaic but it is a good formula with excellent acting and a strong script that is both funny and heart felt.
Win Win is labeled as a comedy, but its funny moments are more nuanced than outrageous. It wavers between moments of joy and humor and an underlying sadness. At its heart, the film is really a drama that focuses on disappointment. Every character has something to be disappointed with, Mike with his struggling professional life, his best friend Terry going through a separation with his wife, assistant coach Stephen who is only coaching to bond with his step-son that quit the team, Leo with being stuck in a nursing home and Kyle who has been let down by everyone in his life.
Nobody plays these types of roles better than Paul Giamatti. He is quietly very funny but always with a disconcerting look on his face. He plays his role effortlessly and believably, perhaps because his character is so utterly believable. He is essentially playing you or me, a typical every day man who must deal with his shit.