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Review: Win Win

PUBLISHED: 13:38 22 May 2011

Win Win

Win Win

Archant

Win Win is packed with good things quality and restraint and subtlety yet its virtues are so lukewarm I think a viewer can be forgiven for not getting excited about them. It's less Win Win, more Muh Muh.

Though the awarding of stars and the Roman Emperor-like powers it offers may seem a cause for envy, there are some films where deciding on the thumbs up or down is a real struggle.

McCarthy’s third film after The Station Agent and The Visitor is in most aspects more of the same: faultlessly acted, sensation avoiding, comedy drama. This time there is a very conventional plot, indeed the hoariest old clichéd sports drama plot going: the one about the coach of the team that always loses who suddenly finds the undiscovered talent that can make them winners.

The sport is wrestling, not the showbiz clowning of The Rock or Kendo Nagasaki, but proper (boring) wrestling which doesn’t normally see the light of day outside of the Olympics or the novels of John Irving.

Giamatti is that novelty, a decent, honest and poor lawyer who also coaches the heroically bad high school wrestling team. Caught in an ever tightening financial squeeze, he decides to make a scumbag move that forces an elderly man to move out of his home.

McCarthy’s appeal is the quality, something beyond Hollywood formula and I guess the film could be seen as a liberal riposte to The Blind Side, Sandra Bullock’s Oscar winning American football drama. But if his film isn’t as crass and manipulative as standard Hollywood fare, it is just as predictable. You’ll be skipping two or three steps ahead of the plot at every turn. Even the

quality is predictable. In The Visitor long time support player Richard Jenkins got to be surprisingly good in a lead role. Giamatti is great in this, but he’s great in much the same way he has been in most every film he’s been in.

The only element of surprise is Cannavale, a performer who initially seems to offer a consummate parody of Italian American actors. He is always on the verge of being very funny here as a man trying to refocus his energy after a very messy and costly divorce. At one point you see Giamatti, Cannavale and Tambor lined up on the coaches’ bench of this failing team and you think that’s a pretty decent sitcom pilot right there. But they never get to cut loose, hearty laughter would spoil the veneer of quality.

Win Win (15)

Director: Thomas McCarthy

Starring: Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale, Jeffrey Tambor, Alex Shaffer, Burt Young

Length: 106 mins

***

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