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“Win Win” Review: A Heartwarming Winner

win win

During the blockbuster movie summer months, it can be pretty easy to forget that films don’t just come in the explosion/alien/fantasy genres. Sometimes, a guy just needs to watch something heartwarming, you know?

I’d seen trailers for Win Win when it first came out about two years ago, but I never got a chance to watch it. It eventually turned into one of those movies that you always planned on seeing, but for one reason or another, it got away from you. Well, that situation ended last night when I finally made it my mission to watch it (or accidentally came across it on cable and decided not to change the channel, whatever).

The film tells the story of attorney Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) and monosyllabic teenager Kyle Poplar (Alex Shaffer).

Mike has been working with Kyle’s uncle, who has Alzheimer’s and can no longer take care of himself. Down on his luck, Mike agrees to be the elderly man’s guardian in order to receive monetary benefits.

Naturally, Mike doesn’t tell wife Jackie (Amy Ryan) about their money troubles, which will of course come back to bite him in the ass in the end as dramatic tension always dictates.

Kyle emerges on the scene when his mom goes away to rehab and he needs an adult to take care of him. WIth his uncle mentally out of the picture, Kyle ends up staying with the Flaherty family.

It’s not exactly a fresh premise, but the performances and the b-plot sports movie storyline are enough to make the movie stand on its own.

Together, Mike and Kyle are definitely a winning combination. Giamatti’s Mike works well as an out-of-depth caregiver for this damaged kid, but Shaffer manages to avoid the usual shouty/pouty teen cliches that Kyle could easily have fallen into and ends up being the best character.

Ryan’s performance as Jackie is also commendable. She walks a fine line as a woman who wants to help the young kid who showed up on her family’s doorstep, while also wanting to protect her own family – and her scenes bonding with Kyle ended up being some of my favorites.

While the Flaherty clan makes for an interesting enough main focus, much of the humor comes from the side characters involved in the wrestling team Mike coaches.

Bobby Cannavale and Jeffrey Tambor play assistant coaches that really have no business teaching kids about wrestling, since they can barely manage to function in real life, let alone a fight.

The wrestling plot never quite leaves the realm of comedic vignettes, and sort of just fizzles out at the end of the film, instead of actually resolving.

It would have been nice to see the two plot lines – familial and athletic – come together in a more cohesive fashion. Still, the lack of resolution on the sports side of things by no means ruined the overall movie for me.

In the end, you get a strong sense of how all of these people have come together to create new family unit, and it was this that sold Win Win for me. The writers/director could have easily fumbled that resolution, but it works out great thanks to the cast and characterization.

With the amount of time in between my watching the trailer and actually seeing the movie, I could have very easily built this movie’s greatness up in my head. However, I think it speaks volumes that, even with all the anticipation, I still greatly enjoyed this film. Win Win was definitely a win for me.

four stars


  • Starring: Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Alex Shaffer
  • Directed by: Thomas McCarthy
  • Running Time: 1 hr. 46 min.
  • Genre: Drama

Did you like this movie? Seen any movies lately that did or didn’t live up to the image you’d built up in your head? Tell us about them below!