FILM REVIEW: Win Win (15)
Some directors strive for greatness their entire careers and never quite fulfil their potential.
Others make a mark with a dazzling debut feature then have the unenviable task of living up to our lofty expectations with subsequent films.
M Night Shyamalan has always struggled to recapture the buzz of The Sixth Sense while Kevin Smith and Guy Ritchie appear to have peaked with Clerks and Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels respectively.
Tom McCarthy delighted audiences at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival with his directorial debut, The Station Agent, a brilliantly observed and witty portrait of small town life that won numerous awards including a BAFTA.
His eagerly anticipated follow-up, The Visitor, courted similar critical acclaim and garnered more trophies for the writer-director’s crowded mantelpiece.
The third time’s a charm because McCarthy’s latest character study is another absolute delight, elegantly navigating the emotional ebb and flow of small town protagonists with earthy humour.
Just as the title promises, audiences hit the jackpot with this poignant and bittersweet tale of a New Jersey attorney who abuses the law he practices to try to keep his business afloat and a roof over his family’s head.
Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) is struggling to survive in the harsh economic climate.
He is barely making enough money to pay the bills and certainly not enough to repair the office boiler, which clunks loudly like a ticking time bomb.
Mike thinks his prayers have been answered when he agrees to act as legal guardian to elderly client Leo (Burt Young), who has early Alzheimer’s - a role which brings in a monthly stipend of 1,500 dollars.
Matters become complicated when Leo’s grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer) turns up unannounced, having run away from his negligent mother (Melanie Lynskey).
Mike’s wife Jackie (Amy Ryan) is reluctant to allow the wastrel to stay, locking Kyle in a room in the basement.
“We have kids. I’m not taking any chances with Eminem down there!” she hisses.
In time, the Flahertys become a surrogate family for the troubled lad, encouraging him to join the school wrestling team which Mike coaches with friends Terry (Bobby Cannavale) and Stephen (Jeffrey Tambor).
Win Win is a heartbreaking account of a family coming apart at the seams and the emotionally wounded teenager who unexpectedly provides the catalyst for change.
Giamatti and Ryan deliver compelling lead performances and newcomer Shaffer is a revelation, unexpectedly winning over Jackie after he admires her JBJ tattoo.
“Jon Bon Jovi - I’m a Jersey girl,” she smiles.
McCarthy’s ear for dialogue is acute as ever and even if the trials and tribulations are resolved a little too neatly, we’re content because though they make poor choices, the characters deserve all of the good fortune they can muster.
By Damon Smith
:: SWEARING :: NO SEX :: VIOLENCE :: RATING: 8/10
Released: May 20 (UK & Ireland),106 mins