Win Win

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Director Tom McCarthy is some kind of wizard. In his hands, simple stories (The Station Agent, The Visitor) take on the gritty texture and emotional heft of life as it's lived, not contoured by Hollywood. Win Win, which he wrote with Joe Tiboni, is McCarthy's latest gem, hilarious and heartfelt with a tough core that repels all things sappy. Paul Giamatti gives a master class in acting as Mike Flaherty, a New Jersey lawyer specializing in elder care and, lately, in cutting corners. With the economy squeezing Mike's life with wife Jackie (the ever-wondrous Amy Ryan) and their two kids, he takes on the guardianship of near-demented Leo (Burt Young) with no intention of earning his monthly fee. When Leo's junkie daughter, Cindy (Melanie Lynskey), drops in from Ohio looking for Leo's cash, Mike fights back.

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But who's more selfish? Mike uses Cindy's alienated son, Kyle (Alex Shaffer), to boost his case and the losing high school wrestling team he coaches with his friend Terry (a superb Bobby Cannavale). Newcomer Shaffer is an expert wrestler, and it shows; so does his natural talent. His scenes with Giamatti floor you. Nothing fancy — that's not McCarthy's style. Neither is phony rah-rah. This movie wins you over, head and heart, without cheating. It's just about perfect.

From The Archives Issue 1127: March 31, 2011
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