Tom McCarthy’s films are about solitary characters and the way in which those around him converge, how these families with holes elegantly find their plugs, and how these plugs find their families. Richard Jenkins in The Visitor Peter Dinklage in The Station Agent. The unknown Alex Shaffer is the next addition in this McCarthy trilogy of lonely souls, and while Win Win may not be the best of the three, it’s easily the most approachable. He’s replaced the quietness that pervaded his previous two efforts with heavy doses of humor, characters that are more instantly likable, and traces of sports movie formula. But it’s McCarthy, and the only real formula McCarthy’s movies fit into are his own.
Win Win stars Paul Giammatti as Mike Flaherty, a lawyer who specializes in elder law. His practice, however, is falling apart under growing overhead expenses. He also moonlights as the wrestling coach for the local high school, managing a struggling wrestling team so far winless on the season. In order to meet his own expenses and stave off the increasing stress he’s under, he agrees to become the guardian for a client, Leo, who is entering the early stages of dementia. He argues that Leo needs to live in his own home, but once he wins guardianship, he takes the $1500 a month commission for being the guardian and puts Leo in managed care.
Complications ensue when 16-year-old Tyler shows up on Leo’s stoop. Tyler left home after his mother went into rehab, and expected to live with the grandfather he never knew. Mike, unsure of what else to do, takes the kid in for the night, but when Mike and his wife Jackie (Amy Ryan) realize he’s got no place else to go, he ends up living with them. What they soon discover is that Tyler is also an amazing wrestler — he placed second in the state during his freshman year. So, Mike enrolls Tyler in school, puts him on his wrestling team, and the family relationship begins to flower, aided by Mike’s best friend and assistance coach, played by Bobby Cannavale, who clearly gives his best performances to McCarthy.
There have been a few comparisons made between Win Win and The Blindside because critics are lazy and can’t speak without comparisons (sorry, we learn it from our parents). Both movies involve a family bringing in a athletic high school student, but the comparisons end there and anyone that would compare Sandra Bullock and Amy Ryan ought to be shot in the head on the spot. This is Tom McCarthy, people. The greatest director who ever starred in 2012. He brings his same sense of grace to Win Win, and populates them with always his colorful characters, that he did in his previous two films. Tom McCarthy has the market cornered on intelligent and heartwarming, but here he brings it to a wider audience.