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Betsy Sharkey's film pick of the week: Thomas McCarthy's 'Win Win'

April 21, 2011 |  6:00 am

Win Win

Though you can already feel the building gale force winds of summer blockbuster season, consider the wonderfully modest “Win Win,” a human tale told with great humanity by writer-director Tom McCarthy. In fact, make it a McCarthy weekend, and after you've caught "Win Win," pick up DVDs of his equally appealing earlier films “The Visitor” with Richard Jenkins and “The Station Agent” with Peter Dinklage and Patricia Clarkson.

Getprev McCarthy, who spends most of his time in front of the camera, is a treat when he steps behind it. The result is always unexpected, quirky, clever and intended for adults, and by that I just mean grown-up people. Thankfully, he seems to never dumb down. Which is not to say his films aren't very entertaining -- there is a very dry wit at work in them all.

In “Win Win,” Paul Giamatti stars as Mike Flaherty -- middle-aged, married with children, an attorney, a volunteer wrestling coach at the local high school and struggling with all of it.

Life turns on the choices we make, and a single questionable decision by Mike sets in motion a chain reaction of events –- good and bad -- that ultimately involve everyone around him.

Giamatti is as good as he ever was (maybe we should have a rule that there must always be at least one Giamatti film playing in at least one L.A. theater at all times -- there are worse laws....).

The rest of the ensemble is terrific as well. There's Amy Ryan as his no-nonsense wife Jackie. This is a woman with mothering instincts so fierce you're never sure whether the bark or the bite is worse, but you wouldn't want to test either.

Jeffrey Tambor and Bobby Cannavale vie for best friend honors. Burt Young is a treasure as Mike’s aging client, with the very interesting Melanie Lynske (she should be in more movies) as Young's opportunistic daughter with issues -- and mother of wrestling wunderkind and lost boy Kyle, played by actual New Jersey wrestling phenom Alex Shaffer. Shaffer, making his acting debut, does teenage insolence masterfully, playing off Giamatti's deadpan disappointment. Their scenes together turn out to be the icing on this very messy, very tasty cake.


Alex Shaffer's true-life role

'Win Win' turns a wrestler into a star

Sundance 2011: Paul Giamatti and a newcomer hit the red carpet for 'Win Win'

-- Betsy Sharkey

Top photo: Paul Giamatti and his wrestling protoge Alex Shaffer in "Win Win". Credit: Kimberly Wright / Fox Searchlight / AP Photo

Bottom photo: Writer-director Tom McCarthy. Credit: Charles Sykes / Associated Press

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