Movie Lines – ‘Win Win’

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Paul Giamatti takes another indie turn in ‘Win Win’

Win Win

is a great film that has been under the radar. Until I found an
online trailer for the film I hadn’t even heard of it
– I hadn’t seen a trailer for it at any movies I’ve seen in
recent months or any mention of it in the entertainment magazines I
read.
The film is a perfect one for the times. Mike Flaherty (Paul
Giamatti) is an attorney living in a small New Jersey town. His
wife Jackie (Amy Ryan) is a stay-at-home mom who cares for their
two young daughters.
Paul Giamatti takes another indie turn in ‘Win Win’

“Win Win” is a great film that has been under the radar. Until I found an online trailer for the film I hadn’t even heard of it – I hadn’t seen a trailer for it at any movies I’ve seen in recent months or any mention of it in the entertainment magazines I read.

The film is a perfect one for the times. Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) is an attorney living in a small New Jersey town. His wife Jackie (Amy Ryan) is a stay-at-home mom who cares for their two young daughters.

While a law practice is usually something that seems like a lucrative business, Mike is struggling. He shares an office – a converted Victorian home – with a CPA named Stephen Vigman (Jeffrey Tambor). It’s clear they are both struggling in the economy when instead of replacing a water boiler that is close to bursting, they opt to cover up the files in their basement with plastic wrap in case it does blow. When the toilet gets clogged up in the office, instead of calling a plumber, Mike plunges it himself.

Part of the reason Mike’s practice is struggling is that he handles cases for elderly clients who are showing signs of dementia. Leo (Burt Young) is one of his clients. Leo doesn’t really know all that is going on in court. He just knows he wants to stay in his home. Mike has been trying to reach Leo’s estranged daughter to take guardianship of Leo, but the daughter has not responded to any certified letters.

Mike hasn’t told his wife about his financial problems. He keeps it all to himself to the point that he starts having panic attacks on his morning runs. Finally, Mike sees a little of glimmer of hope. He can offer to be Leo’s guardian and he will get the $1,500 a month that comes with the responsibility.

In court, when another attorney says Leo should become a ward of the state and then be placed in a senior living facility Mike says that he can be Leo’s guardian and keep Leo in his home, where he wants to live. But after the judge grants Mike the guardianship, he still places him in Oak Knoll, the senior home, because he doesn’t have time to take care of him along with all his other duties.

In addition to working full time, Mike is a coach for the high school wrestling team. The team is no good and has never won a match, let alone a meet. But he still puts a lot of effort into working with the kids.

When Mike’s wife finds out that he has taken on a guardianship for one of his clients, he is vague about the details. He just says he wanted to help him out. But things get more complicated when Mike stops by to check on Leo’s house one day and finds a teenage boy sitting on the steps. Kyle (Alex Shaffer) is a 16-year-old smoker with a black eye. He says he is Leo’s grandson and he came for a visit.

Mike takes him to see Leo, who says he doesn’t have a grandson – the two have never met before. Mike brings Kyle home for the night to stay at his house and then plans to send him back home to his mother in Ohio the next morning. Kyle doesn’t want to leave. He finally admits that his mother has been in rehab and her boyfriend hit him so he ran away to live with his grandfather.

The couple is not sure what to do with Kyle, but Jackie doesn’t want him around the house since he smokes and they don’t know him very well. She’s worried about having him around her two children, Abby (Clare Foley) and Stella (Penelope Kindred.) Mike brings him to work, lets him visit with Leo, and has him sit on the sidelines during wrestling practice.

After a few days of watching practice, Kyle asks if he can practice with the other students. Kyle turns out to be a wrestling phenom. He wrestled as a freshman before he quit the team, he said. He’s vague about why he gave up the sport.

Though Jackie is at first reluctant to let Kyle stay in the home – the first night he is there, she wants to lock him in the basement playroom – she becomes fiercely protective of him when she learns about his family situation. When it becomes clear that Kyle will be staying with them for a few weeks, Jackie and Mike decide to enroll him in the local high school. He goes to school and joins the team. He stops smoking and starts taking early morning runs to get in shape.

But of course things become complicated when Kyle’s mom Cindy (Melanie Lynskey) comes back into the picture. Her motives aren’t clear and she doesn’t seem to have Kyle’s or Leo’s best interest at heart.

The movie had the same feel as “Little Miss Sunshine” or “Sunshine Cleaning,” two other independent movies that I really enjoyed. But something about “Win Win” is less cynical than those two movies. Even though Mike makes a bad decision out of desperation, he’s really a good guy who wants to do the right thing. Giamatti is perfect in the role of the down-and-out lawyer/wrestling coach and Amy Ryan (who plays Holly on “The Office”) is great with comedy or drama.

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