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January 4, 2013

Win Win

by Franz Patrick

Win Win (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Mike (Paul Giamatti), a lawyer, does not want to shut down his practice, but money is quickly becoming an issue. Despite being a part-time wrestling coach at the local high school, it isn’t enough to cover what needs to be paid. When his assistant tells him that whoever ends up with their most recent client, Leo (Burt Young), who suffers early stages of dementia, will receive $1,500 of commission per month, Mike is more than willing to volunteer. Despite promising the court that he will take care of the gentleman, Mike sends him to an elderly home anyway. The very same day he does, Leo’s troubled grandson, Kyle (Alex Shaffer), enters the picture.

Based on the screenplay and directed by Thomas McCarthy, “Win Win” is a light-hearted comedy with quirky characters who sometimes make not the best of decisions yet we still cannot help but care for them. It works because we understand why the characters feel the need to take up certain courses of action. For instance, Mike’s decision to take advantage of the old man is not only deceptive, it is also unethical. He knows that his actions are wrong and he sees that taking in Kyle, a young man without a sturdy parental figure, is some sort of a redemptive element to balance his karma. We can relate to him because a lot of us tend to think similarly: a good action can make up for a bad one.

Mike and Kyle’s father-son-like relationship has complexity. Notice that the first half of the film consists of scenes that barely last a minute. Once a comedic or dramatic punchline is delivered, it moves onto the next. The jokes are amusing but they also highlight the lack of real communication between the characters. It is almost like watching a comic strip. As Mike and Kyle’s bond grow stronger, scenes become longer because they learn to be more open in discussing certain aspects of their lives.

Kyle, as it turns out, is a pretty talented wrestler. Being a wrestler back in the day, Mike sees himself in Kyle so he provides the quiet teen some direction and hopefully Kyle can get a scholarship to college. Eventually, Mike’s redemption angle is coupled with the theme of making up for lost opportunities.

Another interesting strand of the story is Kyle’s relationship with Jackie (Amy Ryan), Mike’s protective, no-nonsense wife. I wished they had more scenes together. Since Kyle is detached from his biological mother (Melanie Lynskey), although he does not say it, his actions suggest he craves for a mother figure in his life. Even when Kyle and Jackie do simple things like shopping for groceries, the material manages to say lot without using words. The way their relationship is portrayed is delicately resonant.

When we are with someone we care deeply about (and vice-versa), words do not carry as much weight. We feel happy between the silences because we are on the same wavelength as that other person. “Win Win” is very in touch with humanity, especially in terms of the flaws embedded within each character, and it leaves us with hope. Even though not all of us might be convinced of it, it reminds us that we have a lot of love to give. But only if we choose to.


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