Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Giamatti film ‘Wins’


“Win Win,” from director Thomas McCarthy (The Visitor), mixes snarky wit, dry humor and dark sensibility as it tells the story of Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti), a discouraged attorney and high school wrestling coach who finds Kyle (Alex Shaffer), a high school runaway, nearly on his doorstep and takes him into his family.

When money got tight for Flaherty and his family, he made the decision to assume guardianship of one of his clients who was on the verge of being ruled unfit to care for himself and removed from his home by the state of New Jersey. Rather than allow him to be turned over to the will of the courts, Flaherty opted to take responsibility for the man, receiving in exchange a $1,500 monthly stipend from the wealthy aging man’s estate.

Giamatti reprises a familiar role, reminiscent of the ones he played in “Sideways” or “American Splendor.” A relatively personable individual, Giamatti’s Flaherty thrives on self-deprecating humor and awkward interactions with a smart sharp-witted cast of characters around him. He seems to fit perfectly in place in his family. His two daughters, especially the oldest, seem to reflect and parallel much of his comedic style. Not to be completely confused with “Sideways” and “American Splendor,” Flaherty does live a happy, high-spirited life, less the stress that monetary problems he’s keeping from his wife seem to be having on his health.

Impulsively choosing to assume guardianship of his client, Leo (Burt Young), Flaherty makes the ethical digression of moving the man out of his home anyways and putting him into a retirement home in town, lying to Leo and telling him the judge mandated that he move in there. Days later, the plot progresses when Flaherty discovers Kyle, the son of Leo’s estranged daughter who he hasn’t seen in 20 years, sitting on the doorstep of Leo’s home.

A runaway from Ohio, Kyle visits Leo and spends the night at the Flaherty’s home. When Flaherty gets a call from the police the next day after putting Kyle on a bus back home, his wife Jackie starts to pull the deeper story out of him. Exclaiming to him that his mother must be worried sick with no way of knowing where he is, Kyle, with his characteristic gentle yet defensive soft spoken demeanor, pulls his cell phone from his pocket and quietly answers that she could have called at any time.

The relationship that develops between Kyle and Flaherty comes to exist somewhere between the typical father-son bond and that of a mentor-protégé flipped upside down. Kyle accompanies Flaherty to one of his wrestling practices, sitting quietly by the outskirts watching the laughable squad and hopeless coaching staff struggle to achieve some semblance of a regimented practice. That night Kyle asks Flaherty if he can practice with the team the next day and Flaherty tells him that he can.

When Kyle pins his opponent in mere seconds, stunning Flaherty and his cohorts, the tone of the movie gets more exciting, inspiring and rejuvenating. It is an interesting coincidence that Shaffer won the New Jersey State Wrestling Championship as a 17-year-old. Kyle’s workout regimen becomes something of an awe-inspiring display of discipline to Flaherty’s family as they awake to the sound of him leaving for runs at 5 a.m., lifting weights after that and quitting cigarettes on the spot the day after joining the wrestling team.

The film’s killer soundtrack scored by Lyle Workman and featuring The National’s “Think You Can Wait” pull together its indie feel and complementing its dry approach.

“Win Win” avoids, for the most part, addressing heavy topics, deflecting them as they are presented with the clever witticisms and letting the tension slowly come to a boil. Life is a bit of a wrestling match, McCarthy seems to be saying. Flaherty asks Kyle in front of the wrestling team how it is he keeps from getting pinned, and how it is he gets back up when he almost does. Kyle thinks for a moment and says he imagines someone holding his head down under water trying to drown him, and tells Flaherty in not so many words that he doesn’t let that happen. “Win Win” is about getting back to your feet no matter what’s holding you down, and not hesitating for a second.

Brian Canova can be reached at [email protected].

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