Win Win And The Blind Squirrel Syndrome

April 8, 2011

Regular readers of this blog know how outspoken I am about the existential threat that now exists to the continued survival of new movies, particularly for those of us in Acts 2 and 3 of life. This situation is also exacerbated by the dreadful lack of quality in New Hollywood films during the first 7 or 8 months of each year. As a result, people get out of the habit of going to theaters, particularly indie theaters, altogether.

To use one of my favorite phrases, however, even a blind squirrel finds an acorn every once in a while.

Just in time for spring, Win Win is definitely this year’s first acorn. The film is also a poignant reminder of the crushing financial stresses and moral dilemmas those pressures present to so many of us today. How far would we go, how much would we blur or even erase the line between our own integrity and our commitment to support our family? What happens when those lines intersect is the essence of the drama of Win Win.

Win Win is the story of  small town lawyer Mike Flaherty whose practice has been decimated by the recession of the past few years. Struggling to support his family, he takes on the guardianship of an elderly client because the court ordered $1500 per month fee seems to be his only chance of keeping even his modest lifestyle intact. To get the guardianship, he promises the court that he will respect his client’s wishes to remain in his own home, but instead he insists his client pay his own way into a nursing home, thereby making the so-called guardianship much less work for the lawyer.

The complication arises when his client’s grandson unexpectedly shows up, having run away from home. Flaherty and his family take the boy in and Flaherty, who moonlights as a high school wrestling coach, soon discovers that the boy is a gifted wrestler who literally changes the fortunes of the team overnight. The grandfather and grandson eventually hold up a mirror to Flaherty that reveals an image of an otherwise decent man who has swallowed the addictive elixir of rationalization.

Paul Giamatti, one of my absolute favorite actors, plays Flaherty with all of Giamatti’s trademark everyman wit, intelligence, decency, and humanity. His portrait of a man who compromises his own integrity is so real and so compelling that it takes on the aura of a common moral and societal predicament in this age of economic upheaval.

Writer/director Tom McCarthy delivers a beautifully nuanced, impeccably cast, and richly textured character drama in Win Win. No explosions, no car chases, no digital effects, no 3D. “Just” real people in a real moral crisis to which all of us can relate.

Win Win is a welcome oasis for those of us looking for movies with character, wit, and drama and is now playing at one of the indie theaters on the endangered species list near you.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Brian Mills April 8, 2011 at 1:27 pm

Hi Stephen, yes, this is one I’m looking forward to seeing when it is released in the UK next month. As there are so few movies that are free from CGI nowadays, how wonderful to hear of one that is obviously made and filled with TLC.
I will definitely be highlighting this movie on my Movies by Mills page.


Eric April 8, 2011 at 6:41 pm

Paul Giamatti and Phillip Seymour Hoffman are two of the only actors for whom, if you tell me they’re in the film, I’ll be in line without knowing anything more.


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