Reviewed by: Daniel Thompson
|Featuring:||Paul Giamatti … Mike Flaherty
Amy Ryan … Jackie Flaherty
Bobby Cannavale … Terry Delfino
Jeffrey Tambor … Stephen Vigman
Burt Young … Leo Poplar
Melanie Lynskey … Cindy
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Fox Searchlight Pictures
Next Wednesday Productions
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|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.
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.