When I was in middle school I was on the wrestling team. Why? I don't know. I was pretty terrible and stuck at the 160 weight class while only weighing about 145. I won a few matches here and there including a third place finish in the city championships in 7th grade but I was not really built for it. My brother was good until he grew too much and wasn't strong enough to compete in his weight class. I think that's why he quit, maybe he quit because the coach was an asshole. That's a distinct possibility too. I tell you this only so you know that I know a tiny bit about actual wrestling. A real smidge. But I know enough to tell you when wrestling on television or in a movie is dreadfully inaccurate which is almost always. A list of movies with decent scenes of wrestling is really small. I can barely think of any. The scene in Rushmore is actually fairly accurate. Oh, isn't there a scene of wrestling in Born on the 4th of July? I feel like I've seen Tom Cruise straining under the force of another man, being pinned down by a bigger stronger opponent, breathing heavily, red in the face, yearning for some sort of release. Or was that in some other kind of movie? Anyway, the pinnacle of wrestling in movies has always been Vision Quest starring Matthew Modine. I'll always have a soft spot for this movie, I've even read the book it's based on, but there is a new greatest wrestling (I'm not counting pro wrestling obviously, in that case the best wrestling movie of all time is No Holds Barred) movie and it's called Win Win.
Paul Giamatti plays a struggling attorney and high school wrestling coach named Mike Flaherty who can't seem to win at either one. His practice is falling apart and his team is terrible. Luckily, he married way out of his league. Amy Ryan plays his wife, Jackie, who stays at home with the kids. One of his last, precious few, clients is an older man suffering from the early stages of dementia named Leo, played by Burt Young. In an effort to basically steal 1500 dollars a month from him, Mike decides to become his legal guardian. He's is supposed to leave the old dude in his house as per his wishes but he sticks him in an old folks home so he doesn't have to bother with him. Unfortunately, Burt Young's estranged daughter's son, Kyle, shows up at his now vacant house looking to stay with him which really puts Mike in a bind.
The kid that plays Kyle in the movie delivers a pretty strong performance. The part is really written very well. I don't think he strings more than two or three sentences together even in his big scenes. Which, if you've ever spoken to an average 16 year old kid is pretty much what you get. A lot of sullen single word respones and a lot of mumbles. He doesn't talk like he's 25 expressing feelings he might have but would have no idea how to articulate. I really appreciated that bit of screenwriting.
Mike and Jackie let the kid stay in their basement and enroll him in school after finding out that his mom is in a drug rehab facility. Eventually Mike finds out that, as a freshman, the kid got second place in the Ohio State Championships. So the kid starts wrestling for him.
The wrestling scenes are very accurate and fun to watch. There is an especially great scene where Kyle has convinced one of the worst wrestlers on the team that he's ready for a match. He isn't but it's fun to watch him try. I've defintely seen some terrible matches just like that one.
Bobby Cannavale and Jeffery Tambor play Mike's assistant coaches. Tambor is hilarious as Coach Vig. Nobody can act as brilliantly put upon as Jeffery Tambor. I think he has an amazing tour de force performance in him. He is sort of overshadowed by Bobby Cannavale in this movie though. Cannavale plays Mike's longtime friend, Terry. Cannavale is one of those actors who always cracks me up. He hasn't failed yet. Sometimes he is in some pretty crappy indie stuff but he always makes me laugh. He is in top form in Win Win.
The movie gets complicated when Kyle's mom shows up and wants to take both Kyle and Leo back to Ohio. She's an inept mother and a money grubbing daughter who nobody wants to be around. This is the main conflict in the movie. It's handled believably and honestly. I won't tell you how it ends because for most of the movie it could go either way.
Every performance in this movie is pitch perfect. It pretty much revolves around Paul Giamatti's excellent turn as Mike. Amy Ryan is very good too. Their relationship seems very real, it's not perfect but you get the feeling that they really love each other and are used to making things work. Sometimes I think Giamatti gets extra acting credit for being ugly and out of shape. But that's not really true. He really is one of our best actors. This is also the third gem in a row for Tom McCarthy whom you may know from the 5th season of the Wire. He's previous two directorial efforts were The Station Agent and The Visitor both of which I really loved. Go see Win Win even if you aren't into wrestling.