Monday, March 28, 2011
There is nothing like Paul Giamatti when he's on his game. It's glorious. I still, to this day, can put in Sideways, or American Splendor, and revel in his simple, honest work. He's got a wonderful way of playing the sad sack, without becoming indulgent. A twinkle in the eye that lets you know there's still something scrappy in there, even when the world crashes around him.
I mentioned to someone earlier that I was pleasantly surprised that Giamatti's Mike Flaherty in WIN WIN is less of a sad sack than we are used to seeing from him, but as I think about it, that's not exactly accurate. He's less of a misanthrope, less angry, and more proactive. He's also a relatively stable family man, and there's a warmth in this performance that was really nice to see. I think we all have known it was there, but this film truly brings it to the forefront.
Mike Flaherty is a small-town New Jersey lawyer who's in over his head, financially. Via a aging client, Leo Poplar (the very welcome Burt Young - YO, PAULIE!!), in the early stages of dementia, he sees a way out for himself and his family. Because there's so much warmth from Giamatti, and lovely performances from the family, anchored by Amy Ryan as Mike's wife, Jackie, and the old man's family is nowhere to be found, you go with it.
Until the family shows up. Then things get complicated.
This is a film where I can legitimately say I liked, or maybe I should just say cared for, every character on screen.
Newcomer Alex Schaffer, as Leo's hereto-unknown grandson, is simply fantastic. He plays the line between a genuinely sweet-natured kid, and the problems inherent with growing up in a bad situation, perfectly. So many young performers expel so much effort onscreen, but Schaffer is so laid-back and effortless, it's quite winning, and makes the explosions of emotion and violence that much more memorable.
The entire supporting cast is great, from the aforementioned Ryan and Young, the always-amazing Jeffrey Tambor, to Bobby Cannavale and Melanie Lynskey. There isn't a weak spot in the ensemble.
The script does a really great job of setting up a whole series of complications for Mike and the other characters, and then manages to smoothly tie them all together and tick them off, one by one. It's a lovely piece of writing with great moments and lines for almost every character. Thomas McCarthy writes and directs, from a story by himself and Joe Tiboni. Kudos to both of them, but mainly to McCarthy, who manages to set a tone that is not only steeped into the script, but, it feels like, into the shots themselves.
This is a truly well-made, well-acted film that embraces positive messages without be cloying or preachy. the situation itself is a just a tad outlandish, but the tone and performances keep everything grounded in a very relateable reality. I very much enjoyed this film.