When I watched the pilot episode of Game Of Thrones, I got very excited when I saw that Thomas McCarthy was credited as the director. Now, McCarthy isn’t a household name but chances are, you’ve seen him. He played the plagiarist journalist in the final season of The Wire. He was John Cusack’s romantic rival in 2012. He was nominated for an Academy Award for co-writing the Pixar film Up. However, McCarthy has received most of his critical acclaim as the director of low-key, character dramas like The Station Agent and The Visitor. I have to admit that I was shocked to see McCarthy’s name linked to Game of Thrones because, with the exception of Peter Dinklage, it appeared to have nothing in common with his previous films. Well, turns out that I wasn’t the only one who thought that because apparently, despite McCarthy being credited as the director, the majority of the pilot was actually reshot (quite well) by Tim Van Patten.
So, you might not be seeing Thomas McCarthy’s work on television but fortunately, you can still catch it in the movie theaters. McCarthy’s latest film is a surprisingly poignant comedy called Win Win.
InWin Win, Mike (played by Paul Giamatti) is an attorney who works and lives in small New Jersey town. Mike is married to Jackie (Amy Ryan), owns a big house, helps to coach the high school’s mediocre wrestling team, and can’t pay his bills. Rather than let his family know that he’s on the verge of going broke, Mike instead becomes the legal guardian of one of his clients, the increasingly senile Leo (Burt Young). In return to acting as Leo’s guardian, Mike receives a payment. He also promises to take care of Leo so that Leo doesn’t have to enter a nursing home. However, since Mike is played by Paul Giamatti, it doesn’t come as much of a shock that Mike promptly moves Leo out of his home and into the nursing home. Leo, however, is too senile to understand that he’s being taken advantage of and all of Mike’s second thoughts disappear as soon as he gets the first check.
However, things get complicated once Leo’s delinquent grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer) shows up looking for his grandfather. Mike takes Kyle to see Leo and soon finds out that Kyle’s mother (and Leo’s daughter) Jill (Melanie Lynesky) is currently in drug rehab and Kyle has nowhere to go. Reluctantly, he and Jackie agree to allow Kyle to stay with their family until his mother gets out of rehab.
While Kyle, at first, seems to just be an inarticulate drop out, he quickly reveals to himself to actually be a very intelligent (if very angry) young man. Even better, from Mike’s point-of-view, Kyle is a former wrestling champion. Mike arranges for Kyle to enroll in the local high school and join the wrestling team. With Kyle now on the team, they actually start to win matches. Suddenly, everything is starting to look up for Mike. He’s a town hero, Jackie starts to bond with Kyle, and Leo remains unaware of how Mike is taking advantage of him.
And then, Kyle’s mom shows up and everything pretty much goes to Hell.
Win Win is the latest entry in the genre of film known as Paul Giamatti Has A MidLife Crisis. The fact that the film remains interesting despite being the thousandth time that we’ve seen Giamatti have a midlife crisis is a tribute to both McCarthy’s intelligent script and Giamatti’s excellent lead performance. Giamatti could play these roles in his sleep and the fact that he doesn’t is what makes him such a consistently interesting character actor. Giamatti gets strong support from Shaffer and especially Ryan. However, my favorite performance in the film came from Bobby Cannavale, who plays Giamatti’s loyal if somewhat dull-witted best friend. Cannavale shows that you can give a very smart performance playing dumb and hopefully, his performance here well lead to greater things for him.
Now, I have to admit — I know nothing about wrestling. Actually, I know less than nothing about wrestling. And, to be honest, I really don’t care if I ever know anything about it. Yet this film, which centered around wrestling, held my attention because McCarthy, as a director, uses the wrestling story to portray something universal. His direction here is never flashy nor is it technically perfect. (To be honest, I counted three appearances by the boom mic.) McCarthy isn’t a polished director but that lack of polish works to this film’s advantage. He may not have been the right director for Game of Thrones but he was obviously just what Win Win needed.