Cult 35: ‘Win Win’ succeeds without stereotypes


For the most part, sports movies try to make you feel inspired, motivated and euphoric. “Win Win” will not make you feel any of these things.

However, strong feelings do arise and the film’s sense of humor never gets ahead of the story.

Under-rated Paul Giamatti plays a down-on-his luck attorney named Mike Flaherty. He faces having to close his practice because he can’t generate enough business.

Going against the traditional belief that lawyers are scum, Mike handles his cases honestly. The plot implies that’s the reason for his financial struggle.

The one bright spot in his life is coaching a high school wrestling team. The only problem is that the team sucks, severely.

When an elderly client named Leo Poplar (Burt Young) pops into Mike’s office for what should be a simple case, temptation enters the equation.

State officials want to put Leo in a retirement home because they believe he is incapable of living alone.

At first, Mike is genuinely concerned about Leo’s fate. Once in court, however, he realizes he can help himself out of his financial slump, at the cost of his client’s independence, by accepting $1,500 a month to serve as Leo’s guardian.

Mike convinces the court he should be Leo’s guardian, then throws Leo in the dungeo… I mean retirement home. Mike figures Leo should be fine as long as he routinely checks on him.

Thinking that no one attached to Leo would ever appear, Mike is shocked when he finds Leo’s 16-year-old grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer) waiting at his grandfather’s previous residence.

Kyle, lighting a cigarette like a developed habit, tells Mike he came from another state to live somewhere temporarily because his mother is in rehab.

Mike feels sorry for Kyle, and allows him to stay at his home for a night to catch the next bus back to his hometown.

Before the bus goes far, Kyle gets kicked off and sent back to where the bus originated. Kyle admits to Mike that he got booted on purpose and did not want to return to his mother’s home.

When Mike’s wife,  Jackie (Amy Ryan), discovers that Kyle lives in a destructive household, she provides room in the house and allows him to stay as long as he pleases.

With no one to really talk to, Kyle starts to follow Mike everywhere during the day.

Kyle becomes intrigued after witnessing several wrestling practices, and wants to give this whole wrestling thing a try.

At the next practice, Kyle wins a few sparring rounds, then crushes the entire team in wrestling fundamentals.
The movie tries to be a bit realistic, so does not use the traditional convention of natural talent.
Mike digs up information on his prodigy and discovers Kyle was once a real threat in the wrestling world. He suddenly dropped out, and Mike intends to find out why.

“Win Win” is one of those special little films that becomes a chameleon with whatever subject matter is on screen. Both the drama and comedy succeed, and the acting is powerful.

Even the sport portrayed achieves common-sense ground that doesn’t take itself too seriously or too lightly.

In other words, this movie truly is a win-win.

“Win Win”
Director: Thomas McCarthy
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Alex Shaffer, Amy Ryan, Burt Young
Length: 106 minutes
Where it can seen: Blu-ray/DVD or video on demand

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