Tom McCarthy continues to document the quiet tragedies, small absurdities and gentle revelations of ordinary American life.
After The Station Agent and The Visitor, Win Win is the third low-key but heartfelt gem from Tom McCarthy, who continues to document the quiet tragedies, small absurdities and gentle revelations of ordinary American life.
This time around the focus is on Paul Giamatti’s Mike Flaherty, a struggling small town lawyer staring a mid-life crisis in the face. When the opportunity to make some extra cash presents itself, Mike impulsively grabs hold, installing himself as the guardian of a wealthy, senile client before stashing him in a retirement home and pocketing a monthly stipend.
When the old coot’s grandson, Kyle (Alex Shaffer), turns up out of the blue, he proves to be a catalyst not just for Mike’s lacklustre high-school wrestling team, but for his life in general. Not before Mike comes perilously close to screwing it up, though.
Giamatti gives another finely calibrated and acutely observed performance in a role that was never likely to stretch him. He’s supported by the equally dependable Amy Ryan as his wife, Jackie, and a combustible comic turn from Bobby Canavale as best friend Terry, who compulsively sits outside his beautiful marital home and watches the builder go in to nail his wife (one of the many things to like about McCarthy is that he keeps Canavale gainfully employed).
But it’s Alex Shaffer who steals the show, somehow turning teenage truculence into an eloquent expression of Kyle’s deep-seated sense of confusion and betrayal. McCarthy’s script avoids all the condescending traps and clichés of cinematic adolescence, suggesting instead that there’s a very thin line separating our adult selves from the child inside.
It’s fair to question how long McCarthy can continue to mine this particular seam before the law of diminishing returns kicks in. And it’s also true to say he’s no great stylist with the camera. But right now he’s making a tricky genre – the warmly personable comedy of manners – look very easy indeed. Win Win is another understated triumph.
It’s Tom McCarthy! You either love him or… like him a lot.
Honest, insightful, warm and witty. A proper delight.
McCarthy can keep you smiling for days.