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Movie Review

Win Win

MPAA Rating: R for language.

Reviewed by: Daniel Thompson
CONTRIBUTOR

Very Offensive
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults
Genre:
Comedy Drama
Length:
1 hr. 55 min.
Year of Release:
2011
USA Release:
April 15, 2011 (wide—select)
DVD: August 30, 2011
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Relevant Issues
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wrestling in the Bible

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Featuring: Paul GiamattiMike Flaherty
Amy Ryan … Jackie Flaherty
Bobby Cannavale … Terry Delfino
Jeffrey TamborStephen Vigman
Burt Young … Leo Poplar
Melanie Lynskey … Cindy
more »
Director: Thomas McCarthy
Producer: Everest Entertainment
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Groundswell Productions
Next Wednesday Productions
more »
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures

“In the game of life, you can’t lose 'em all.”

It’s tough to put into words or pictures the meaning of love, forgiveness, and humanity. As Christians, we can describe these things in a Biblical sense and have peace about our lives and what Jesus Christ has done for us. Without that backdrop, the reality of these traits becomes somewhat murky. In the film “Win Win”, director Thomas McCarthy (“The Visitor”) addresses these issues head on and knocks one out of the park.

Simply put, “Win Win” is about life. In life, no one’s perfect, and everyone has a desire to be loved. Such is the case with the Flaherty family. Mike Flaherty is a lawyer of a dying firm with a loving wife and two young daughters. While trying to make ends meet, Mike also coaches the local high school’s wrestling team. While wrestling is a passion of Mike’s, the team’s struggles have made it another area of stress in his life. Mike’s most lucrative client, Leo Poplar (Burt Young), is about to become a ward of the state because his only living daughter is nowhere to be found. As the stress mounts, Mike is having panic attacks about how he’s going to continue to provide for his family.

Enter Kyle, a 16 year old with a cigarette habit who shows up on the doorstep of Leo’s house claiming to be his grandson. Kyle has run away from home, and his mother is in a drug treatment facility and does not care about the whereabouts of her son. Mike, already trying to deal with too much, allows Kyle to stay with him and his family while he tracks down Kyle’s mom. Along the way, Kyle finds out what it’s like to be a part of a loving family, and Mike finds himself a star wrestler for his struggling team.

Copyrighted, Fox Searchlight Pictures

Although it’s made only for adults, “Win Win” is an expertly crafted family drama. There are laughs and tears, and it’s all acted with great skill. Paul Giamatti (“Sideways”) shines as the protagonist Mike. The viewer can feel his pain and humanity as he tries to be the man of the house, while also trying to do what’s right. Amy Ryan (“Gone Baby Gone”) is excellent as Mike’s wife Jackie. Alex Shaffer plays Kyle with such aplomb that he steals the movie. So often child actors will overact, but Shaffer plays the part of wounded teenager to perfection. The supporting roles are all top notch, with Jeffrey Tambor (“Arrested Development”) and Bobby Cannavale standing out in every scene.

There is so much to like about “Win Win”, but this is a film with strong language from start to finish. “Win Win” contains over 20 f-words as well as several uses of God’s name in vain. The language is indicative of what you would hear in many normal households, high schools, or law offices across America, and it never comes off as gratuitous. At one point in the film, Mike’s young daughter uses a strong word and is reprimanded, and we find later that she learned from her parents. It is a good picture of how parents want the best for their kids, but don’t always lead by example. In fact, Mike and his wife stay away from the f-word, but do use some milder profanities. The only gratuitous part in the film is a quick shot of male rear nudity that is played for laughs, but inappropriate nonetheless. The strong language in “Win Win” is authentic and accurate, but it will understandably keep some Christian viewers away.

If you feel you are discerning enough to bypass the roadblock of profanity, “Win Win” is a film rich with redemption. When the character of Kyle is immersed in the lifestyle of a solid traditional family, his life drastically changes for the better. The film’s protagonist makes some mistakes and must ask for forgiveness. “Win Win” also shows that when times get tough, honesty is always the best policy, and hard work is rewarded.

“Win Win” is undoubtedly a secular film that is only for adults. It portrays family life in a very realistic manner, warts and all. In the process, it provides the audience with two powerful and redemptive messages: everyone makes mistakes, and you cannot put a price on love. Messages of that caliber, explained so clearly, are rare in modern cinema. For that reason alone, “Win Win” is a true winner.

Violence: Minor / Profanity: Heavy / Sex/Nudity: Moderate

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.


Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Positive
Positive—Good review! This is a brilliantly written screenplay, beautifully performed by the actors, perfectly directly. I think the profanity is scattered fairly sparsely, so I would not give it as much attention as your reviewer does, although I understand why he does. What was wrong/unrighteous was presented as wrong, and what was right was presented as such. There was no warped morality here. The theme of emotional damage between mother and son is pretty intense here, but this is a slice of life movie.

Another good performance, of course, by the inimitable Paul Giamatti.

I liked this movie very much and recommend it heartily.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 5
Halyna Barannik, age 65 (USA)
Positive—This was a really great movie. It could have been a family film, if only someone had edited the 30-plus f-words. I still enjoyed it immensely and wouldn’t mind seeing it again someday, but because of the profanity I can’t recommend it as freely to others.

Parts of it really reminded me of “The Blind Side” (without the Christian perspective, of course); and that was what I liked most about it. Watching an ill-used teenager bond with a loving family… I was very happy with the way it ended.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Kadie Jo, age 19 (USA)
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