It’s been awhile since I’ve posted an “Under the Radar”, so just to refresh anyone new to the site, this series is my look at smaller films – not necessarily indie films – but, just movies that I feel a lot of people probably haven’t seen.
As recommended by my podcasting partner in crime, Chris “Tank” Tanski, this entry is on “Win Win”, a 2011 “family” drama from Fox Searchlight Pictures.
I put the “family” in quotes as many of the core players in this film have familial relationships without actually being related, while others, though related, treat each other very poorly…
Paul Giamatti plays Mike Flaherty, a lawyer with an ailing law practice and mounting debts. In his spare time, he coaches the hapless local high school wrestling team. Things aren’t exactly going well for him… he’s out of shape, having trouble making ends meet, and his team has never won a match.
Things begin to change when one of his elderly clients, Leo (played by Burt Young), has a guardianship hearing. Deemed unfit by the court to take care of himself, Leo is about to be turned over to the care of the state… when Giamatti intervenes. He offers to become Leo’s legal guardian, which would allow Leo to live at home in his own house. The court permits it.
Unfortunately, Giamatti wasn’t acting with the purest of intentions. As a state approved guardian, he receives $1,500 a month to take care of Leo. He can’t, however, look after Leo closely in order to allow him to live at home as he promised the State. Instead he has Leo stay at a living facility – which Leo’s estate pays for – and checks in on him occasionally. Essentially, afterwards, Giamatti’s character gets to pocket $1,500 a month for nothing.
Karma collects however, when Leo’s grandson comes to call. He’s run away from “home”. His mother is in rehab and he was living with one of her boyfriends. After catching a black eye, he’s run away to try to see if he can stay with his grandfather. Of course, given the sittuation now, he can’t. Giamatti is called in, though, and the boy winds up staying temporarily with he and his wife (Amy Ryan). It’s a big gesture… but there’s one thing they didnt count on.
The boy is a championship calibre wrestler.
What follows is a fantastic, low key little relationship film, with moments of genuine comedy. Giamatti and Ryan turn in excellent, empathetic performances as two parental figures suddenly thrust into caring for a teen without having planned on it. Alex Shaffer also turns in a nice, understated performance as Kyle, the troubled teen with a talent for grappling. Along the way, Bobby Cannavale and Jeffrey Tambor add humor as the assistant coaches to the wrestling team.
It’s a sweet movie peppered with laugh out loud moments. Giamatti’s character has a moral struggle to go through over the guardianship stipend, while Shaffer’s Kyle struggles with his issues of neglect. We get the pleasure of watching a bond form between them, along with the wrestling team slowly turning its fortunes around. It’s a very heartwarming film that never goes over the top, and never lets its characters settle for easy answers.
Win Win currently sits at a 94% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes (162 reviews). It’s a great recommendation if you’re looking for something mellow to watch!