I’d follow Paul Giamatti anywhere. I first noticed him in The Truman Show, a small part in a great film. Then I followed him into American Splendor, where he played writer Harvey Pekar, completely nailing it, another great film.
I followed him into John Adams, Sideways, Man on the Moon and Shoot ‘Em Up. He was terrific in all of ’em. Hell, I even followed him into the Tim Burton God-awful Planet of the Apes remake, and worse, the Shyamalan debacle Lady in the Water. You see, this guy Giamatti has got the goods.
So where’s he at now? In writer/director Thomas McCarthy’s Win Win. It’s McCarthy’s third film, afterThe Station Agent (liked it) and The Visitor (haven’t seen it yet). This story follows hittin’-hard-times lawyer Mike, played by Giamatti, trying to get it together in New Jersey. He’s got money problems, a busted boiler, panic attacks, and a perpetually plugged-up toilet. Oh, and the high school wrestling team he coaches never wins. Things aren’t looking so great when an opportunity arises which Mike jumps on. As in life, one thing leads to another, and Mike finds himself drawn into a client’s family. And as in life, it gets complicated.
Win Win doesn’t go and get too serious on us, though, thankfully. There are issues tackled here, issues like what makes a family and loyalty and all that. But it’s not done in a way that is overly sappy or corn-ball, a welcome break from the kind of movie that insists on beating you to death with whatever point it’s making. Win Win is first and foremost funny. It’s understated and subtle, qualities hard to come by in these overt times. The script follows a logical progression, almost unheard of. Things actually make sense. There are no car crashes, no shootouts, no absurd twists at the end. There is no violence, other than the wrestling, no nudity, no drug use, no scene set to some overly loud lame-o rock tune. My word, you say, then what’s left?
Just a super movie. The cast is great, led by Giamatti, who is so much more interesting to look at and listen to than most of these Hollywood pretty boys. Bobby Cannavale as his best friend, Burt Young as his client, and Alex Shaffer as the kid who comes to dinner all do really good work. Quibbles? There are always quibbles. Amy Ryan, bless her heart, is fine as Mike’s wife, but I feel as if she’s everywhere nowadays, in the movies, on tv, you name it, kinda overexposed. Just tired of her, I guess. It’s nothing personal. Going the other direction, Jeffrey Tambor’s character, a colleague of Mike’s, is underexposed, underwritten. Coulda used more of him. But these are minor points.
Win Win is one of those films that gives you hope that good things can still come out of Hollywood, that quality of story does matter, that someone out there actually cares about something other than making money. This is film as Art.
It’s enough to bring a tear to your eye.