One of the more respected names within the American independent comedy scene is Thomas McCarthy, the writer and director behind the station agent and the visitor. His latest film is win win, a film which I had no knowledge of other than a few trailers here and there, nevertheless this is still a film I have looked forward to for a while.
McCarthy’s latest is the story of a struggling lawyer who isn’t getting much work as well as spending time as wrestling coach for a local high school. When we join the film his wrestling team is having a bad time of it, losing all their games in the season so far. Back at work one of the clients he is working with is an old man who wants to stay living at the home he bought with his own money, despite the state of New Jersey wanting to put him in a care home on the account of him suffering from dementia. Mike, the struggling lawyer, sees this as a oppurtunity to get some money from this situation. All is going as well as could be until he happens upon the house one day only to find a kid with ‘Eminem hair’ sat on the step, smoking. Win win is about the effect that this kid has on a small New Jersey family.
This is a film about life and the drama of the everyday and to an extent I believe films like this could be described as the American equivalent of British social realism. The tone may be very different, but this is about everyday regular people who are having a bad time of it. Sure, social realism may be fascinated with its own morbidly depressing world but the comparison is there to be drawn. Unlike those misanthropic British films, I heartily believe the Americans have got it right thanks to McCarthy’s latest.
The thing that sets the American day-to-day apart from the English counter-point is the humour. McCarthy’s humour is playful and nice and doesn’t need to make the characters suffer to get laughs. Even though the people are having a rough time of it the sense of humour constantly amuses. It would be a stretch to say that the film is laugh out loud funny as this is the sort of funny that makes you smile and not bust a gut from laughing wildly. There are moments from the token clowns, but the most prominent feature of the film is its nice, pleasant tone. If it wasn’t for the occasional bad language this would be a film for all the family.
The greatest strength of Win win is its characters and the development of the plot. The recent trend in cinema over the past few months has been the poor characterisation and overtly ambitious plots. Over the past year or so, maybe stretching even further back than that, there have been countless films that include many other plotlines only used only to pad out the running time. The great thing about this film as far as the plot goes is that everything is developed and told in a subdued and subtle way as well as resolving everything that is starts. It’s a great script by McCarthy. There is no point after seeing this film where you are thinking about how a particular plot strand is left unresolved, everything that needs to be told, seen or developed, is.
As great as the script was, there was one problem I had with it. The world of Wrestling plays a large role in this film, and as far as I am aware that world is represented well. My problem is that the language used in these scenes is nothing more than gibberish to these ears; I didn’t know what was being said. It was inaccessible during these occasional scenes. Slight foibles aside the film is sold of the back of the cast and their performances.
The cast is led by Paul Giamatti who is becoming the everyman of American cinema, starring in films such as Sideways, American Splendor and Barney’s Version. There is a reason why he keeps on getting these roles, it’s because it is here where he excels. That is continued here, Giamatti as Mike is the sort of performance which is understated to the point where you forget that this is an actor, instead you think this is just a case of a camera happened upon these events. The same could be said of all the cast who plays it straight. Amy Ryan as Mike Wife, Burt Young as Leo Poplar (the unwitting source of the films conflict), Melanie Lynskey as Cindy and last Alex Shafer as the bleached blond Kyle puts in a slightly forced but subtle performance in his debut acting role. The two comic performers were great too with Jeffrey Tambor and Bobby Cannavale providing more than enough laughs to keep the smile on my face, when it was supposed to be on my face. It’s a shame then that is seemed as if they were taking turns, Tambor in the first half and Cannavale in the second.
Contradictory to the traditional family value drama’s which tend to use more sombre set of tools to tell its story this is a film that is never anything less than entertaining. It’s just one of those nice films that has no pretensions about changing your ideology or the world, it’s just good film that puts a smile on your face that can be enjoyed by anybody. It might have problems with pace and the occasionally transparent set-up line, but the film has a greater problem than that. That problem is when it was released. As great as the film is, it’s going to be pretty much forgotten thanks to it being swamped out by the glut of blockbusters. The film of its own credit however does everything right, it turns out this film wasn’t so optimistically titled after all.