No actor does ennobled schnook better than Paul Giamatti. Watching him play Mike, a suburban New Jersey lawyer and family man with high aspirations (but shoulders that say otherwise), is its own kind of rich pleasure. This is his best role since Sideways; whether he’s down on his knees trying to unclog his modest office’s toilet, sparring with his similarly feisty wife, Jackie (the ever-wonderful Ryan), or coaching the local high-school wrestling team to nonmediocrity, Mike bears the weight of real-world anxiety. He’s a character I’d happily return to, one almost novelistic in its complexity.
What a heartbreaker, then, when Win Win becomes indie-film cute even as its characters remain recognizably flesh and blood. Seeing after the estate of a demented, wealthy client (a bit of shady legal ethics, that), Mike is suddenly thrown together with the man’s troubled grandson, a bleach-blond, tattooed loner named Kyle (Shaffer, ably cast in the Paul Dano part). Wouldn’t you know it, but Kyle has wrestling greatness in his grasp;
he’s even a former champ. No matter how predictable his arc is, writer-director Thomas McCarthy (The Station Agent) never loses sight of the difficulties of cashflow and making one’s weekly nut. You’ll want to give his movie—and his secret weapon, the lovably neurotic Bobby Cannavale, as a recent divorcé hoping to co-coach the team—a pass for sweetness.