Win Win (2011)

If only Giamatti was coaching WWE-style wrestling, rather than that soft/real crap.

Paul Giamatti is a stressed out and frustrated attorney, father, and high school wrestling coach named Mike. He agrees to be a guardian to this old dude who is starting to suffer from dementia just to get some money. His grandson, Kyle (Alex Shaffer), shows up after running away from his mother that he hates. So Mike lets him live in his house with his family and he soon learns that he is also a badass wrestler that could save his shitty wrestling team.

Written/directed by a dude named Thomas McCarthy who I still need to check out more of considering that he’s only made two other films and I have heard nothing but lovely things for them both. Also, considering that he wrote for the near-perfect flick, ‘Up’, this is definitely a guy who is able to get the Kleenex out.

The story is pretty simple but the way that McCarthy writes and directs everything here, makes it all seem new and refreshing in its own little, non-original way. Everything here simply feels like real-life with real people, real situations, and real dialogue. McCarthy makes everything that happens in this story not seem like something before (even though that is the case) by just giving us the problems that these characters face but after spending so much time with them, we can empathize with them and root them on no matter what.

McCarthy does a great job with balancing out comedy and drama very well here also. The comedy aspect works out perfectly because in about the first 45 minutes, I was peeing my pants in just how damn funny this dialogue was especially since there are a whole bunch of running gags that have to do with the older guys and the fact that their wrestling team sucked, and they bring it up basically every time the film goes towards the wrestling mat, but it’s very funny and never seems over-used. It seems like everybody in this film had me laughing my ass off at one point but when it came to the dramatic side of this flick, that’s where the film really started to surprise me.

There’s a moment where this film really starts to kick in to some very dramatic material but it never gets too schmaltzy or annoying, instead it stays real which is a true testament to McCarthy’s job as a screen-writer. The film never seems to be trying too hard to make us tear-up or even get us to feel something for these situations, it just sort of happens because we spend so much time with all of these characters and we get to love them. The whole dynamic between Mike and Kyle is very odd but great because it shows just how these two obviously different people need each other in their lives for solace and comfort. It’s great to see how McCarthy puts in this flick as things start to get pretty dark by the end of the flick, but he still doesn’t lose his charm when it comes to writing and I still found myself laughing, even though I never teared up once. Yeah I know that it’s dumb to judge how much I liked a film by the fact if I cried or not but honestly, I was a baby during ‘Up’, so I was almost expecting the same thing here as well.

The problem for me with this film was the fact that by the end everything started to get very predictable and instead of me not knowing just what was going to happen next, I knew exactly what was going to occur and happen to these characters. Did I like this element in a way? Yes. Did I not like this in another way though too? Yes as well. The reason I didn’t like this element as much is because the fact that it was predictable just showed me that it didn’t seem like McCarthy was able to really go for the gutso with this script and try to really tug at our heart-strings but instead give us a satisfying, if predictable fall-out. This is good if you are trying to satisfy everybody who watches the flick but when it comes to people who really want to feel something when they are watching a comedy-drama, you shouldn’t make it feel like a cop-out and almost as if you were scared to really try anything else other than just staying light and happy. Don’t get me wrong, I thought the script was awesome but the last act for me was pretty disappointing considering how much the whole film made me feel.

What McCarthy does do perfectly here though is give us an ensemble cast that gives everyone here a chance to shine. Paul Giamatti is always great in everything he does, and continues to do so with his performance here as Mike. Giamatti is such a lovable dude that no matter how many bad things the characters that he’s playing does, we always somehow like him because it’s Paul Giamatti. He’s great at what he does and when it comes to playing the every-day daddy role, he handles it perfectly. Also, for his first role ever, Alex Shaffer does a pretty bang-up job as Kyle. Kyle is just a really simple kid that isn’t a bad seed by any chance other than the fact that he’s troubled but also very charming. Shaffer handles the charming and the troubled side of Kyle very well and seems like a mature kid right from the get-go that may not look like a kid I could leave the house key with, but by day 4, I’m practically telling him that I keep it under the rug when I’m not home.

Bobby Cannavale is a dude I have seen before but regardless he’s great here as Mike’s assistant-coach, Terry and made me laugh just about every damn time he opened up his mouth; Jeffrey Tambor is also a lot of fun as Vigman, Mike’s other assistant-coach because come on people, the guy is always funny; and it’s also great to see Burt Young actually working again because to be honest, after doing my ‘Rocky’ review I actually started to wonder if this dude was still alive. Terrible thought I know, but a thought none the less.

Amy Ryan is perfect as Mike’s wife, Jackie, who has that perfect balance of drama and comedy to the point of where she feels like a couple of moms that live right around me. At first, she seemed like she was going to be this highly annoying and strict mom who was very weird about having this kid come into the house, but after awhile you get to see her for who she really is and she’s just really cool and down-to-earth, which I was not expecting one bit. Great to know that she isn’t the crackhead mom in this flick though.

Consensus: Even though it gets very predictable by the end, Win Win is still well-written with rich characters, amazing performances by this ensemble cast, and a simple look and feel that seems like a genuine story.



  1. Great review of a very good an entertaining movie. Like you say it became a bit predictable, but I liked the fact that not all little things came back later in the movie. Over the years I’ve learned that every little thing which is shown will come back later in the movie. When it doesn’t it is a very nice surprise (like the thing with the boiler in his office). It had a lot of funny moments as well.

    • It had its funny moments that were equally balanced out well by the drama here as well but it just got a little too predictable. Still, a good film though. Thanks Nostra!

  2. Just saw this last Sunday and really enjoyed it! I really like your review, Dan! I felt similarly in a lot of ways. I’m a big fan of Paul Giamatti, and like you said, he’s just really great in EVERYTHING he’s in, and he nails this role too.

    It was also nice to Amy Ryan from The Office play this role. Definitely different for her, but like you said, everything is portrayed very realistically in this film. Kudos to Thomas McCarthy.

    I’m planning to write a review of this movie at some point. You should check it out when I do!

  3. Win Win is on its way to my house from Netflix, and my expectations are quite high! I absolutely LOVE Paul Gimatti.

    Good review, Dan!

  4. I loved this movie. Giamatti is excellent as always as the flawed yet thoroughly amiable everyman. Nothing flashy but very compelling and authentic movie.

  5. Giamatti is one of my favorite actors, so this was a must see. While it did end up predictable in the end, it was one of my favorites earlier in the year and one of most overlooked films of 2011. Glad you enjoyed it.

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