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“Win Win,” Reviewed

“Win Win,” Reviewed (photo)

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We’ve seen “The Bad News Bears” formula trotted out so many times but never quite like “Win Win.” Director Tom McCarthy (“The Station Agent,” “The Visitor”) gives us all the cliches from the down-on-his-luck coach to the troubled-but-talented star — but buries them deep in the background of a touching and relevant story of a family man struggling to balance his books and his ethics amidst our current recession. It’s sort of “The Bad Financial News Bears” and it is outstanding.

Paul Giamatti stars, in one of his best performances in years, as Mike, a small town New Jersey lawyer whose meager earnings from his almost exclusively elderly clientele aren’t enough to keep his practice afloat. The bills are piling up; Mike can’t afford to fix the office boiler that clangs all day long and keep food on the table for his wife Jackie (Amy Ryan) and 2 kids. With insolvency a real possibility, Mike compromises his morals. When he learns that the estate of one of his senile clients, Leo Poplar (Burt Young), pays its guardian $1500 bucks a month, he has the court assign him Leo’s guardian, stashes him in a nursing home against his wishes, and pockets the $1500 all for himself.

There’s just one problem: Leo’s grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer), who’s been sent by his deadbeat mom to live with his grandfather and whose surprise appearance threatens to expose Mike’s entire scheme. While he tries to ship Kyle back to his mother, though, Mike discovers something: his new charge is a former champion high school wrestler, so good he might be able to prop up the local high school wrestling team, which Mike just happens to coach.

As you can see, the plot is complicated and littered with coincidence. But McCarthy is less concerned with the story than its moral implications for his characters, who are uniformly fascinating. McCarthy’s story is small — we’re talking about a whole lot to do about a couple thousands dollars — but its stakes are huge. And so are the questions it raises: what should a man be willing to do to support his family? How should we care for our society’s elderly? How do we determine who is the most qualified parent for a troubled child? But rather than than drown us in speeches about what’s right and wrong, McCarthy’s witty, nuanced screenplay, written with his friend and New Jersey lawyer Joe Tiboni, reveals all of the answers through the frequently difficult choices his characters make.

“Win Win” is one of those movies about good people with bad luck who make worse decisions. When their luck begins to improve, we cheer; when their worse decisions come back to bite them on their ass, we care. Giamatti and Ryan are one of the most believable married couples I’ve seen onscreen in a while, and I was particularly impressed by the subdued but utterly believable performance of Shaffer, a non-professional actor and former New Jersey state wrestling champion, as lost soul and wrestling phenom Kyle. His growth under Mike’s coaching, and the team’s growth under Kyle’s influence, has some fun with inspirational sports team cliches without completely abandoning the things we love about the genre either.

“Win Win” isn’t the most visually stimulating 90 minutes you could spend at arthouses this spring, but it might just be the most emotionally stimulating. The characters are so rich and their bland New Jersey world is so real, that I found myself completely caught up in their struggles and successes. As Mike’s busted boiler kept clanging away — as the pressure literally rises before our eyes — I found myself leaning foward in my chair, gripping my armrests in a way I don’t do often in movies. It was like I was watching a spy thriller, not a movie about a crummy, ethically-challenged lawyer from New Jersey. Pretty good for a “Bad News Bears”-style inspirational sports film.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

Uncle-Buck

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…