The new film from Thomas McCarthy ( The Station Agent, The Visitor) doesn’t quite live up to its name. Win Win has plenty of things going for it — a gentle sense of humor, a mostly understated use of sports that never becomes too overwrought and the always-terrific Paul Giamatti. But in the end the film stacks up just this side of twee, as the sort of quirky fare that’s passably entertaining without ever offering anything real or remarkable.Giamatti stars as Mike Flaherty, a Jersey lawyer with a wife (Amy Ryan of The Office and Gone Baby Gone), two young daughters, an after-hours job coaching a dreadful high-school wrestling team and a small practice that he’s struggling to keep afloat. He doesn’t want to upset Jackie with this last tidbit of unhappy information (though as played by the excellent Ryan, she’s clearly tough minded enough to handle the news). But because this is a movie, and a plot is required, Mike decides to take on the guardianship of Leo (Burt Young), an elderly client in the early stages of dementia. Mike can’t find the old man’s daughter, so he decides he’ll take care of Leo — and pocket the $1,500 a month the guardianship offers. He needs the money, he reasons. Meanwhile, despite Leo’s protest that he wants to stay in his own house, Mike pretends the court has ordered Leo off to a nice old-folks’ home because such a set-up is easier for Mike. But such lies have a way of boomeranging on you, especially in the movies. Shortly Leo’s laconic teenage grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer) shows up for a visit. His mom is alive, he says, but she’s in rehab. As the kid turns out to be a spectacular wrestler, Mike is more than happy to make room for him in his basement, at least until his team wins a few matches. Win Win is the sort of easygoing, shrug-it-off film in which complicated legal matters are quickly and easily solved, problems are never totally insurmountable (there’s never a discussion of Jackie’s going back to work, for example, or of Kyle becoming emancipated and living with his grandfather in the house with home health care, since the old man has plenty of money). The performances are all solid, but the plot is wobbly and must be propped up with peripheral action: several wrestling matches and the presence of two totally unnecessary secondary characters (Jeffrey Tambor as Mike’s vague assistant coach and Bobby Cannavale as Mike’s embittered best friend, who desperately needs a distraction because his wife has dumped him). Cannavale offers a chuckle or two with his overzealousness with the young wrestlers, but Win Win is never so serious that it requires comic relief. The film has its moments, but it’s more of a draw than a triumph.
Movie InfoCast: Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale, Jeffrey Tambor, Burt Young, Alex Shaffer.
Director: Thomas McCarthy .
Screenwriters: Thomas McCarthy, Joe Tiboni.
Producers: Lisa Marie Falcone, Michael London, Mary Jane Skalski.
A Fox Searchlight release. Running time: 106 minutes. Language. Playing at: Playing at Regal South Beach Cinema 18