Published Mar 25, 2011If Paul Giamatti's acting style could be summed up in a sentence fragment, it might be, "Ah, fuck you too." In Win Win, his lack of fulfilment as an attorney is perfectly matched by the nasally tone of his voice, the quickly evaporating hairline and a midsection that sags in his shirts, as if to say, "Meh."
The older, paunchier and more weathered Giamatti gets, the more he looks like Paul Giamatti. He is no one's idea of an "inspirational" actor and the notion of him being cast as the lead in an "inspirational" sports movie is amusingly perverse.
Much ado was made about Sandra Bullock reaching the height of her career at age 45 with The Blind Side, but now comes an affable comedy/drama by Thomas McCarthy (The Station Agent, The Visitor) starring a 43-year-old who looks every bit his age.
One thing that's likeable about Win Win is that none of the characters are especially noble. Mike Flaherty (Giamatti) reluctantly welcomes Kyle (Alex Shaffer), a troubled teenager with a drug-addicted mother, into his home because he has taken on guardianship of his Alzheimer's-afflicted grandfather (Burt Young) for the money.
When Giamatti brings him along to the wrestling team he coaches, Kyle reveals himself to be a virtuoso, but complications arise when his mother (Melanie Lynskey) resurfaces and, with questionable motives, demands custody of Kyle and his grandfather.
Win Win is enjoyable and amusing for the way it shows a series of flawed, but fundamentally well-meaning characters trying to navigate life's difficulties, but for some reason it lacks the emotional resonance of McCarthy's earlier work.
The problem is that a strong formula sports movie is still, ultimately, a formula sports movie. We always know where these characters will end up, so the pleasure of Win Win comes from taking a familiar journey with good company. And, if nothing else, it would make for a fascinating double-bill with the All-American The Blind Side.
Like Kennedy and Nixon, one tells us who we want to be and the other tells us who we are. (Fox Searchlight)