Tuesday, April 26, 2011
At some point in the last few weeks of Game of Thrones-mania I read with great surprise that the original pilot episode (later scrapped and reshot) was directed by Tom McCarthy. The naked ambition and lusty behavior on display in Westeros feel pretty far removed from the small sadnesses and quiet moments of McCarthy's The Station Agent and The Visitor. McCarthy's new Win Win expands on his previous work with a dose of bustling family life, some c. 2011 economic issues, and a wonderful central performance. Small-town lawyer Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) defrauds the state in an effort to prop up his ailing practice; the unintended consequences of Mike's actions bring a sullen teenager named Kyle (Alex Shaffer) into the home of Mike and his wife (a tart Amy Ryan).
There's a sports movie inside of Win Win; Mike is a high school wrestling coach and Kyle's talents invigorate Mike's sad-sack team. McCarthy also has great fun with the way middle-aged men use teenage boys to relive their own youth. (Jeffrey Tambor and Bobby Cannavale play Mike's assistant coaches.) Alex Shaffer finds some surprising notes inside Kyle's inarticulateness, but Win Win of course belongs to Paul Giamatti. As Mike discovers - for better and worse - what he's capable of as a father and a coach Giamatti's expressive eyes betray the hope that he can stay one step ahead of life just a little while longer than he thought. The scenes between Giamatti and Amy Ryan add a wonderful note of rumpled marital comedy. The plot of Win Win resolves itself with messy detail, there are fights, lawyers, and uncomfortable confessions. Tom McCarthy doesn't let melodrama trump what's best about Win Win; for both Kyle and Mike there is another season just around the corner.