I’ll admit up front that I’m a Giamatti fan in extremis. Mr. G. switches personas for this film which is the antithesis of the irascible, curmudgeonly Barney Panofsky character he played with such aplomb in Barney’s Version. As Mike Flaherty he is a struggling middle class New Jersey lawyer who is trying to keep his one man practice afloat, while worrying about the strange noises coming from the basement of his building. His thinking is that is if he ignores them, his problems will vanish, just like his concern about the dead tree in his front yard that is likely to take out his roof in the next big storm. His worries are consigned to the back burner. He slips through the days putting one foot in front of the other, a roof over his head, and an IOU to his daughter’s college fund.
In addition to his money woes, Mike is a harried wrestling coach at the local high school, and his team is an embarrassment to say the least. Talk about stress! Magically, the answer to his problems seems to appear in the form a a pre-Alzheimers client and his grandson. HIs elderly client Leo Poplar, played by Burt Young, pleads with Mike to keep him out of the nursing home, but when Mike finds out that Leo’s guardian is paid $1,500 a month to manage the estate, Mike petitions the court and wins the guardianship. Mike’s income has just been given a healthy infusion of cash, and Leo finds he must pack his bags and move to the nursing home. Mike justifies his deception by convincing himself that Leo will be better off in the home. After all, they have a huge flat screen TV.
In fact it’s Mike who finds himself better off when Leo’s grandson Kyle arrives to stay with his grandfather, and ends up living with Mike and his family by default. Would it surprise you to learn that Kyle is a former high school wrestling champion? Mike’s life is moving forward at full speed. He has more disposable income, and a potential standout for his wrestling team. Kyle blends well with Mike, whose mild dysfunctional family is a blessing compared to the drug-hazed disaster that was his childhood.
The film does not fall victim to the sports cliched “underdog wins” movie format, as least not entirely. Although it was nominated for best sports movie by ESPY, it is so much more than a jock flick. At once sweet, funny and deeply human Win Win is a charming slice of flawed humanity. A natural for Giamatti who plays everyman so well