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A New Jersey elder law attorney Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) finds himself in a rough situation as his business struggles, and his building starts to fall apart. Hard up for cash he sees an opportunity for quick money by acting as a dementia-suffering client named Leo’s (Burt Young) guardian. Mike keeps this information to himself to avoid possible ethical issues. Meanwhile he spends his evenings coaching high school wrestling with his office mate Stephen (Jeffery Tambor). The team is terrible, and the losing streak takes an equal toll on Mike’s dimming self-esteem. Everything changes when Leo’s grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer) shows up hoping to stay with his grandfather while his mother Cindy (Melanie Lynskey) works her way through rehab. Mike and his wife Jackie (Amy Ryan) reluctantly take Kyle into their home, and support him despite not being entirely sure they trust him. Soon after Mike discovers that Kyle was a star wrestler, and a new surrogate father and son relationship blooms.

 Win Win
Win Win comes as a pleasant surprise. I hadn’t heard much about the film before receiving my review copy, and had assumed, based on its synopsis and the presence of Paul Giamatti, that I was in for another bout of First World problem navel gazing akin to Little Miss Sunshine, Smart People, or that movie only I seem to dislike, Sideways. Well, I shouldn’t say that. Win Win

is

, generally speaking, a navel gazing exploration of First World problems, but it does what it does better than other navel gazing explorations of First World problems, and does it with an earned sweetness, and touching honesty rare to the subgenre (if we can call it that). Win Win is a feel good movie that feels good without lying to our faces about it. This honesty isn’t entirely surprising given the fact that writer/director Thomas McCarthy is the guy behind The Station Agent, The Visitor, and was one of the co-writers on Pete Docter’s Up (mostly in the form of a script doctor from what I can gather.) I wasn’t the biggest fan of The Station Agent, but it was a strong first film, and McCarthy has clearly honed his specific brand of placid, sardonic comedy. The Visitor is probably the ‘better’ movie, but I can imagine myself re-watching and recommending Win Win more regularly.

Usually I’d expect a story like this, which melds low-key comedy with low-key drama, to take its drama way too seriously. When something bad happens here McCarthy doesn’t expect us to break down in tears. His characters treat their issues with endearing consistency, and sarcasm that doesn’t erode our affections. Even the inevitable third act conflict is played with a general lack of melodrama, despite a few dark turns. The low energy performances will probably rub some viewers the wrong way, but these characters aren’t the same quasi-autistic space cases that leaked out of the uncanny success of Napoleon Dynamite. McCarthy is more interested in these people than he is in his plot, which hinders him a bit (the movie doesn’t feel particularly long, but it does move listlessly), but his affection pulls the audience through some interactions that really should be grating. Chief among these are scenes featuring Kyle and his surrogate mother Jackie, who don’t really have much to talk about outside of general niceties. Somehow these ended up being my favourite scenes in the entire movie. I suppose Amy Ryan’s incredibly natural and wry performance doesn’t hurt. I probably don’t need to verify the fact that Giamatti, Bobby Cannavale (as Mike’s best friend), and Tambor are all quite good as well, but would like to make special note of young Alex Shaffer, who apparently got the gig based more on his real life wrestling skills. Shaffer feels like the real thing from the get go, but is also capable of genuinely acting when it is required of him without any noticeable strain. I’m a bit disappointed as a fan that Melanie Lynskey doesn’t have a whole lot to do here, but she plays a relatively despicable character gracefully enough to stave off rotten tomatoes from the audience.

 Win Win

Video


Win Win is better than most films of its ilk, but it more or less looks exactly like all of them. Stylistically clarity and solid colours are the name of the game, but wide-angle lenses make for some nice, clean background details, and decent fine textures (mostly hair and clothing fibers). The colour palette is almost obsessively specific, and the select hues are more solid than mixed. Just about every set wall is either custard yellow or crushed blue, the outdoors are a mix of lush greens and desaturated grays, and each character is mostly defined by one or two wardrobe colours (usually blue, green, yellow, burgundy or black). As it seems to be the cool thing do with independent comedy/drama, Win Win is shot with a yellow tint, and low light levels that create deep, dark blacks. Win Win is shot on film, and it does show in terms of fine grain, which does increase with darker shots, but there isn’t a lot in the way of noticeable compression noise.

 Win Win

Audio


You probably won’t be surprised to discover that this particular DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack isn’t particularly aggressive. The mix pushes naturalism over hyperrealism, meaning that all unnecessary sound is excised, and necessary sound sounds like it was all recorded on-set. Dialogue is crystalline, and all like volume levels are consistent. Stereo and surround effects that don’t involve music pretty much begin and end with the sound of ringing, broken pipes. Even the crowd noise inherent in the wrestling scenes is mostly centered, with a few escaping echo effects (end buzzers, whistles, music). But for the most part noise is centered. The lack of compression shines, however, as volume levels are high and crisp without any noticeable distortion. The clean electric guitar soundtrack is rich, features wide stereo effects, and a decent LFE throb.

 Win Win

Extras


The extras begin with two deleted scenes (1:50, HD), which show Mike at work, and the family unit driving to work. From here we move on to a discussion with writer/director Tom McCarthy, and co-story writer Joe Tiboni (6:30, HD) who discuss their personal experiences that informed the story. ‘David Thompson at Sundance 2011’ (2:30, HD) is an adorable triptik/interview/commercial with the young supporting actor as he wanders the streets around the Sundance Film Festival. ‘In Conversation with Tom McCarthy and Paul Giamatti at Sundance 2011’ (2:30, HD) is another EPK/interview that mostly acts as a summary and sales piece. ‘Family’ (2:20, HD) continues the fluffy EPK trend, but features a few extra interview subjects, and some minor behind the scenes footage. Things end with a ‘Think You Can Wait’ music video by The National, and a proper trailer.

 Win Win

Overall


Win Win isn’t for everyone, but fans of writer/director Thomas McCarthy’s other films, and folks looking for a simple story full of honest smiles will find plenty to love. Parents might also like to know that the films R-rating is entirely unearned, and is owed to a handful of entirely innocent f-bombs that aren’t directed as an insult or description of a dirty act. The colourful photography makes for a nice looking 1080p transfer, and despite being quite simple, the audio mix is noticeably cleaner at higher volume levels than many similar releases. Extras are weak all around.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer. Thanks to Troy at Andersonvision.com for the screen-caps.


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