Just looking at actor Paul Giamatti’s face evokes ‘everyman’ vulnerability, so he’s perfectly cast as Mike Flaherty, a schlubby, cash-strapped, down-on-his-luck New Jersey suburban lawyer with a wife and two young daughters to support.
When he discovers that one of his elderly clients, widower Leo Poplar (Burt Young), is succumbing to senility and – with no family to care for him – might become a ward of the state, Mike takes over as Leo’s guardian because, frankly, he needs the $1,508 monthly stipend. Yet, despite Leo’s wish to remain at home, Mike dumps him in Oak Knolls, an assisted living facility.
While Leo’s estranged, drug-addicted daughter evaporated years ago, his bleached blond, tattooed, and obviously battered, 16 year-old grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer) unexpectedly appears on Mike’s doorstep, having run away from his mother and her abusive boyfriend in Ohio. So Mike and his wife, Jackie (Amy Ryan), agree to take Kyle in – temporarily – bunking him in the basement, and, one night, Kyle accompanies Mike when he coaches New Providence High School’s wrestling practice. They’re joined by Mike’s sullen partner, Stephen Vigman (Jeffrey Tambor), and vengeful buddy, Terry Delfino (Bobby Cannavale), whose wife left him for the contractor who was fixing-up their house. To everyone’s surprise, Kyle demonstrates amazingly ferocious skill on the mat, invigorating his scrawny teammates. But then Kyle’s just-out-of-rehab mother, Cindy (Melanie Lynskey), suddenly shows up, accompanied by her own counsel, Eleanor (Margo Martindale), to complicate everyone’s lives.
Like Fox Searchlight’s “Little Miss Sunshine,” Tom McCarthy’s domestic drama combines caricature and farce. With two quirky, low-budget, independent films (“The Station Master,” “The Visitor”) to his credit, actor-turned-writer/director McCarthy and co-writer Joe Tiboni show how to touch the human chord through sly, subtle character delineation and unexpectedly sharp, audacious, observational humor. And casting newcomer Alex Shaffer was a stroke of brilliance; as New Jersey’s real-life wrestling champion in the 119-pound class, he oozes authenticity.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Win Win” is an engaging, irresistible 8. Wry, whimsical and compassionate, it’s worth a trip to the multiplex