Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Win Win. A-

I like to think of Tom McCarthy as a sort of smaller scale Alexander Payne, less conspicuous but just as original. The argument could even be made that McCarthy is more of an original than Payne if one were merely to look at the general premises of their films. Payne's biggest hits have had the theme of an older man trying to find himself amidst varying difficult circumstances (or, perhaps, as a result of them). To a varying degree this can be found in McCarthy's first two films, The Station Agent and The Visitor, but he avoids this common thread in his true American original, Win Win. The movie has a fairly complicated premise, involving a lawyer, played by Paul Giamatti, his scheme to get extra money to provide for his family, and the arrival of a teenager who is about to make the lawyer's high school wrestling team a whole lot better. There's a good deal of drama here, especially in the second half, yet McCarthy handles it effortlessly without a hint of trite sentiment. Much has to do with the acting work from Giamatti (not that we expect anything less than the best from him) and Alex Shaffer as the wrestler. Shaffer, who had never acted before, gives on of the most compelling and convincing screen debuts in some time. There's a lot required in the role, and Shaffer hits all the right notes. McCarthy also handles his emotional scenes like a master: in one intense scene, instead of having Shaffer engage in a shouting match with Giamatti, McCarthy has him wrestle him to the ground. What else I appreciated about the movie is McCarthy's understanding of family, and more, that he shows one here that's not at all broken and that makes all the right moves. When was the last time we saw a really good movie with a family that didn't have divorced or seperated parents? Win Win didn't look like it would be equal to McCarthy's previous efforts, but the movie surprises you. On the surface it looks like just another indie comedy-drama, but Win Win, thanks to McCarthy, breaks new ground.

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