Win Win (2011) – A Film Review
Win Win ought to be an entirely forgettable film experience, given that its comedic ideas have been sitcom chum for generations on end. For example, Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) is rotund, balding, hiding financial pressures from his wife, and hanging out with men who still have difficulties in letting their youthful days go. In a moment of desperation, he does something stupid, the situation inevitably becomes complicated, and he ends up being forced to confront his shortcomings. I ruin nothing in revealing this. The way this film is going to work out is only short an explanatory title card at the start. Fortunately, though, unbridled creativity is not the reason one goes to see a Thomas McCarthy offering. Instead, he tends to provide us with agreeable reminders that despite being as pathetic, flawed, and lazy as we know ourselves to be, with even just a little more effort and social awareness, the good that we can then do could be exponentially greater.
Here, Mike and his wife Jackie (Amy Ryan) end up taking in listless youth Kyle (Alex Shaffer), who comes replete with bad tats and an even worse dye-job. As attempts to re-unite him with his mother in Ohio prove problematic, Mike’s eagerness to see his temporary charge on the bus back home is softened, though, when Kyle turns out to be an exceptional addition to the school wrestling team that Mike coaches. However, there are enough flies in the ointment here to keep pest control busy for a month, so things are soon buzzing off course for our good-natured hero with a guilty secret or two.
In this sense, Mr. McCarthy does offer up a reasonable critique of “that which does not bend will inevitably break”. In Ireland, we would call it “cute hoorism” and most of us are culpable of it to some extent or other. There is another word for it though and that is “dishonesty” and it informs all of Mike’s actions – be it the early-morning jogging, the treatment of Leo (Burt Young), the reasons for becoming concerned for Kyle, and what Mike’s initial reactions are to Kyle’s mother Cindy (Melanie Lynskey) turning up. Indeed, conspicuously set in an economic downturn as it is, one could even argue that this film is a microcosmic representation of the sort of lies and self-justifications that created the whole financial mess in the first place. A bit of a stretch, you might retaliate. However, to nick from the Bible, he who can be trusted with little can also be trusted with much.
Now, the point of such sermonising is to highlight how Mike is an essentially good man who just wants to do right by his family. However, in one moment of folly, he threatens to bring his whole life crashing down on itself, despite the responsibilities that he has as a parent and husband. In this sense, Jackie definitely lets him off the hook far too easily for having nearly ruining everything that they had built together! At the same time, it is a pity that Mr. McCarthy did not develop this idea of petty corruption by otherwise decent people a little further, as it is a theme in sore need of exploration.
Yet, what really irks me most about this film is how poorly the character of Cindy is written. Of course, there are feckless moms, just as there are bent lawyers and run-amok teenagers. However, while we are given versions of events here that seek to cast the actions of Mike and Kyle in a (reasonably) positive light, Cindy is portrayed as a self-centred alcoholic who is more than prepared to do a very shoddy deal or two. Oh sure, she sheds a tear or two along the way. However, Mr. McCarthy has proven himself too nuanced a filmmaker to be let off the hook that lightly. To put this another way, whereas Walter could only beat his djembe drum as a lone act of defiance, solidarity and remembrance at the end of the highly satisfying The Visitor, here the overly simplistic stab at a moralistic ending ruins what has been to then an agreeably diverting 100 minutes of cinema.