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Monday, April 4, 2011

Win Win (Limited Release Date: 3-18-2011)

        Say what you will about the movie itself, but has any film in the last five years or so as greatly affected the filmmaking landscape as Little Miss Sunshine? The movie couldn't even muster up $60 Million stateside, and yet it is eternally referenced as a touch stone for flicks that see all kinds of cash (Juno, for example, made well over twice as much). For one, it was one of the early movies that really put Fox Searchlight on the map, an indie production company that once played second fiddle to Focus Features. What's far more important, however, is that LMS also established a sort of indie-movie aesthetic; vibrant yellow pallets, protagonists with unglamorous jobs, and bickering house-mates who all, deep down, really deserve to be happy. These types of movies have always existed, of course, but Sunshine ushered in an absolute tidal wave.

        Win Win derives from this very linage, complete with a struggling small town family, original music composed by an artist that is so totally scene right now (The National), and a deep green title card. Paul Giamatti stars as Mike Flaherty, a man whose life is riddled with the struggles of the average American. His law practice is floundering, he suffers from random stress attacks, the High School wrestling team that he coaches has yet to win a match this season, and his young daughter thinks shit is an acceptable word to say on a whim. As if answering a prayer, into Mike's life enters Leo (Burt Young), a man going through the stages of early Dementia who the state has deemed ill-fit to remain as his own care-taker. Noticing the $1,500 monthly check awarded to anyone willing to take Leo on, Mike signs the papers to be in charge of the senior, but instead puts him in a retirement home anyways. Almost immediately after Mike has completed this sordid act, Leo's grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer, in a killer and hilarious film debut) arrives in town, having run away from his mother with the intention of staying with his old old man. Seeing no other choice, the Flahertys take Kyle under their roof, and in a seemingly fated coincidence, the bleach blonde teen turns out to be one hell of a wrestler. True-to-life comedy and heart-warming ensue.

        Admittedly, I haven't seen Director Tom McCarthy's two previous movies (The Station Agent and The Visitor, both thought of extremely highly in most film circles), but if he guided those two the same way he does this one, my Netflix cue will be all right without them. Sure, not every movie has to have jump cuts and roaming cameras and such, but McCarthy's style here appears to be no style at all, most of the movie shot in a distinctly unimaginative fashion. His pacing is also for want, as lengthy stretches of the movie prove bland enough to allow the mind to wander. To be fair, the guy is dealing with a pretty tangled story (also conceived and written by McCarthy), fluctuating between broad comedy, intimate character study, rousing sports tale, and even flirting court-room drama before wisely coming to a stop. His thematic ambitions are admirable, but they ensure that he's unable to fully accomplish any of his plethora of goals. For my money, the sports sections work best, but as they make up the middle chapter, meaning both the beginning and the ending can feel like a bit of a slog.

        Though Win Win fits pretty snugly under the umbrella that Little Miss Sunshine unfolded a few years ago, it also defies many of the standards that that movie set by virtue of its heightened sense of realism. Giamatti, strong as always, actually appears to be suffering here, and there's no foul-mouthed grandpas or Nietzsche-reading mutes to distract him from his every day toils. This makes the movie easier to take seriously, but it also renders it more difficult to have fun with, which is very clearly something that the film-makers did not intend. It's not without its winsome aspects, but Win Win is tonally confused, not particularly involving, and really just not that entertaining. To be sure, this is not always the case with movies that try to emulate life's day-to-day grind, but it certainly is for this one, and besides getting a peak at some real upcoming talent in Shaffer, its a pretty missable affair.

Grade: C-

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