If you were following my blog in the beginning of 2011, you probably remember my anticipation regarding the film Barney's Version. Mike was anxiously awaiting its local release date and revisiting the trailer over and over again. We left the theater thoroughly satisfied, although with time, the sense of initial fulfillment wore off little by little. Not to say that Barney's Version was a disappointment, but I don't think it has stood the test of time as much as we had initially expected (we were also probably more than a little bit miffed by the fact that Paul Giamatti didn't get even so much as a nod from the Oscar's for pulling off this incredibly challenging role).
But that could also be a product of our reaction to another of Giamatti's recently released films, Win Win. I entered the latter film with fewer expectations and less of an idea of what the movie was even about (after all, I had read the novel version of Barney's Version). But I came out with a sense of complete joy and utter contentment. Win Win quite simply made me feel good. Without the sap and sentimentality that you might expect, this movie proves quietly engrossing and ultimately heartwarming. And it is most definitely a movie worth watching again and again, for each viewing is as enriching an experience for the viewer as the first.
Win Win stars Giamatti as Mike Flaherty, a counselor at law and part-time wrestling coach whose floundering practice is a source of great stress and financial woe. When one of his elderly clients, a man named Leo, is nearly court-ordered to be sent to an assisted living facility against his will, Flannery steps in to take up Leo's guardianship. Mike is truly in it for the money and quickly sends Leo to the dreaded elderly home. While Mike keeps all of these struggles behind closed doors so as not to worry his wife, Leo's grandson Kyle shows up and further complicates things. Though he seems like a kid from the wrong side of the tracks, the Flaherty family's innate generosity makes it impossible for them to turn Kyle away, and he soon becomes an unconventional but elemental part of the family.
Beyond Giamatti's amazing performance (as always), this film features some great acting talent all around, including Amy Ryan as Mike's wife Jackie, newcomer Alex Schaffer as Kyle, and the always entertaining Bobby Cannavale as Mike's close friend Terry. Though some critics have contended that the story is a bit predictable if not naive, I like to argue that Win Win offers a refreshing take on the family drama without going to an overly sentimental or melodramatic place. The characters are realistically drawn and well-portrayed, the plot intriguing and multi-faceted. Win Win tells its story with a hard-to-achieve balance of delicacy, comedy, and heart. Its the perfect recipe for success, especially with Giamatti at the helm.
And it is this unique perspective and winning cast that has catapulted this movie to a coveted spot near the top of my personal favorite films list. I can see myself revisiting Win Win when I'm in need of a little pick-me-up, a bit of warmth on a dreary day, or a decent film that will never fail to please.