The new film from actor-turned director Tom McCarthy is certainly the most Fox-Searchlighty of all the films on the studio’s current slate inasmuch as it’s a—probably(?) accidental—blend of the tried-and-true high-school sports triumphalism template with the main components of Little Miss Sunshine and Juno. It has kids who swear (in the first scene after the credits, a little girl mutters “shit!”); an almost unbearably bright colour palette (lots of vibrant, deliberately collegiate-athletic yellows and greens invade every corner of the frame throughout the bulk of the film); a teenaged character at its centre who delivers sometimes amusing jokes in monotonous deadpan, and, finally, a heavily sardonic patriarch who may as well as be as suicidal as Steve Carell’s character was in Little Miss Sunshine. The score and soundtrack are brimming with mundane, sub-Tom Petty-esque riffs and plinky acoustic guitar meanderings, and there are purposefully ‘quirky’ gags about Wii Golf.
With all this, McCarthy blends something of the small-town feel of his previous films—his début The Station Agent, and its follow-up, 2007’s under-seen The Visitor—into the fabric of Win-Win (despite it being set in suburban New Jersey). It’s a comfortable, utterly nice film with very little going for it outside of that. Paul Giamatti plays Mike, an elder-care lawyer who—this being yet another recession-era movie—is in need of some extra cash. For an ill-begotten $1500 a month, he becomes the court-appointed guardian of Leo, a septuagenarian experiencing the early stages of dementia played with considerable sympathy and some pathos by the character actor Burt Young.
Mike is also a wrestling coach at the local high-school, which is good as that gives Leo’s teenaged grandson Kyle—who comes unannounced from Ohio to stay with grandpa, fleeing an alcoholic (and probably drug-addicted) mother played by a hideously miscast Melanie Lynskey—something to do other than mope around Mike’s house. Kyle and his wrestling buddies are easily the best characters the film has to offer, but some of the best acting comes from the periphery: Jeffrey Tambor and Mike’s dopey pal Terry (Bobby Carnavale, ), who help coach the team, along with Amy Ryan as Mike’s wife, are the driving force behind much of the film’s comedy. There’s a legal battle over Kyle’s custody once his mother arrives in town, and things heat up when Mike discovers Kyle was a state championship wrestler back home. This is a sports movie with more heart and laughs than actual sport, but it ultimately adds up to something rather uninspiring.