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Movie Review By Guest Blogger Ron Wells: McCarthy Wins with “Win Win”

April 21, 2011

When my friend Ron Wells speaks, I listen. And I post what he writes. I hadn’t heard about this film when he sent his review to me a few weeks ago, but I figured it was worthy of his praise. Take a look at this trailer and read his review and I bet, you, like me, will put this film high on your “to do” list.

To be Thomas McCarthy right now must be an overwhelmingly wonderful experience. Among his many roles and projects, he’s been a TV actor (The Wire), a movie actor (Michael Clayton, The Lovely Bones), and even more importantly,  a unique and dynamic writer and director.

McCarthy has now written and directed his third film, Win Win, after previously giving audiences the unique and offbeat Station Agent, and the quietly powerful The Visitor. Like these two other independent gems, Win Win is a film filled with humor and drama that stems from real situations and interesting characters who invite the audience to enter their very relatable world.

Thank God, Win Win is not in any way a blockbuster of a movie. Instead it deals with characters who are quirky, intriguing, and most importantly, real. McCarthy has the amazing ability to put widely divergent people in situations that allow the audience to just sit back and care about the people on screen as they interact with each other in ways that are not always predictable. No one is larger than life, and most are somewhat flawed, or at least very human, in their actions.

Because of his unique and insightful writing ability, McCarthy has been able to attract fantastic actors such as Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Burt Young, Jeffrey Tambor, and Melanie Lynskey to form one of the best ensemble casts you will see this year. Add to this, McCarthy’s daring to cast an unknown high school wrestler, Alex Shaffer, and place him in his first role at the heart of this movie. He gets a powerful performance from Shaffer, and one must wonder what magic wand McCarthy carries around with him to bring out such talent.

To say too much about the plot of the film is to ruin the wonderful surprises that await audiences. Let’s just say that the movie involves a high school aged boy who has run away from home to be with his grandfather, a lawyer who also coaches a wrestling team and whose law practice is having financial problems, and  an elderly man who is in the first stages of dementia while his grown daughter is evidently involved with drugs and bad boyfriends, and you have enough interweaving of plot lines to fill out a complex novel.

The lawyer/coach and the  young boy may be at the core of the movie, but to say it is a sport’s film would be missing the point. This is a very human film, about human beings just trying to make it through life.

The brilliance of McCarthy’s writing, and his cast’s acting is that it all works and the audience cares about everyone in the film, even those in very small supporting roles such as the kid who has been on the wrestling team all year and decides it’s finally time for him to actually wrestle in a real match that the team may actually have a chance of winning. Yet, whether he wins or not is inconsequential.

That we care about him is very important, for if we care about him, then we will also be concerned about the other larger characters in the film. McCarthy’s genius is that he understands this fact:  everyone matters.

This is a drama filled with marvelous comedic moments that stem not from jokes, but from the natural personalities of the characters themselves and the situations they are in. As in real life, these provide wonderful moments  of humor, and yet the dramatic elements are tense, real, and lurking just around the corner.

This is a tough trick to pull off, one which very few filmmakers are able to do, and yet McCarthy has done it for the third straight time.

If you want a big budget, special effects laden blockbuster, well, summer is just around the corner. If, on the other hand, you want a small film filled with people you can care about, in situations that you will surely be able to relate to, then Win Win is the film for you. It’s not big in stature, but quirky, quick, wiry and strong, like a wrestler about to pin his opponent. All one can do is smile, applaud, and then stand up and cheer, for sometimes winners don’t always have to be big to be good.

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