There are few movies I see that I would be willing to pay money to see again. “Win, Win” from writer/director Thomas McCarthy, is one movie I would happily pay $10 to see again.
The film manages to be both a heart-warming drama and a laugh-out-loud funny comedy simultaneously.
“Win, Win” centers around Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti), a lawyer to the elderly in New Jersey, who is under tremendous stress. He’s a husband and father of two young daughters, who is trying to balance his duties as family man with his side-gig as coach to a below-average high school wrestling team. However, he is also struggling to make ends meet and is close to losing his law practice something he neglects to tell his wife, Jackie (Amy Ryan).
Things turn around for Mike when one of his clients, Leo (Burt Young), an elderly man with dementia is about to be turned over as a ward of the state and put in a nursing home. Mike finds a note in Leo’s file that says whoever acts as guardian to Leo is paid a monthly stipend – just the extra income Mike needs.
Mike asks a judge to appoint him the guardian of Leo, who doesn’t want to be in a nursing home, so that Leo can stay in his own home. The judge grants the request, but Mike puts him in the nursing home anyway. He reconciles this with his conscience, telling himself he needs the money and Leo would be in the nursing home regardless.
Shortly after this, Leo’s grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer) appears. He’s a quiet, awkward kid who comes from a rough background. Mike and Jackie take him in temporarily and soon discover he’s a wrestling prodigy. Before long, Kyle is a member of Mike’s team and is becoming a member of the Flaherty family.
“Win, Win” has the same predictable elements that many films have: a man is faced with an ethical dilemma that he hides from his family, there’s a complication that leads to the family finding out about the unethical behavior, there’s a fight that threatens to tear them apart, a sport serves as a vehicle to give a juvenile delinquent a second chance, etc.
However, having these elements doesn’t make the film predictable or boring. In fact, it’s entertaining the entire way through.
The characters of this story are a major reason the film is so endearing. They draw you in: Mike, who makes morally questionable decisions for the sake of his family; Jackie, who is first weary of Kyle but then develops a motherly love for him; and Kyle, a kid who was dealt a bad hand in life and is looking for a second chance and a home.
The film is a drama and there are certainly parts that are sad and tug at the heart strings, but the film balances these parts with an incredible, sort of offbeat humor. Mike’s friend Terry (Bobby Cannavale), assistant wrestling coach Vigman (Jeffrey Tambor), and Kyle’s new friend Stemler (David Thompson) add a lot comic relief and memorable scenes to the movie.
While it isn’t an action-packed thriller and it’s not a romantic comedy, if you’re looking for a great movie with a lot of heart, “Win, Win” is certainly a winner.