Director Tom McCarthy
With Paul Giamatti and Amy Ryan
Released 20 May
To cinemagoers who would rather spend time with recognisable human beings than with computer-generated aliens, Tom McCarthy is a godsend. His first two films as writer-director, The Station Agent and The Visitor, were both bittersweet, wryly comic portrayals of the kind of flawed but well-meaning under-achievers usually overlooked by Hollywood. And his third film, Win Win, shows that he can maintain his sensitivity and quirky humour even when making a broader, more mainstream comedy.
The film stars Paul Giamatti as a lawyer—a profession which, in most films, signals headline-grabbing cases and gigantic wealth. In this instance, though, Giamatti is struggling to support his wife and daughters in suburban New Jersey, and he has so few clients that he decides to moonlight as the legal guardian of an old man with no known relatives.
This responsibility earns him a few hundred extra dollars a week, but it also requires him to look after a senile pensioner who wants to keep living in his own house. Giamatti doesn't have time to provide the care that option would entail, so he installs his client in a retirement home, and hopes that no one will discover that he's breaking the terms of his guardianship.
The story of a desperate man committing what he thinks is the perfect crime, Win Win looks as if it's going to play out as a film noir, but McCarthy soon takes things in a different direction. When the old man's wayward teenage grandson arrives on his doorstep, he turns out to be a talented wrestler who could save the high-school team which Giamatti coaches. At this point it seems that we're in store for a punch-the-air sports movie about underdogs beating the odds, but the film doesn't work out like that, either.
Never quite as dark or quite as light as it keeps promising to become, Win Win feels closer to a novel than it does to the average American movie. When we're shown the faulty boiler in the lawyer's office, we assume it's bound to explode, but it doesn't. When his wife nags him about chopping down the dead tree in front of his house, we assume the tree will tip over onto the roof, but it doesn't. Instead, Giamatti's ups and downs are subtler, which doesn't make the downs any less painful or the ups less heart-warming. The wrestlers may not battle their way to a glorious victory, but seeing the sense of purpose they give to Giamatti's recently divorced friend, Bobby Cannavale, should leave audiences with a glow that not many bigger, flashier films could match.Nicholas Barber