Win Win Review

win reviewBehind its deceptively original looking packaging, Win Win is a somewhat predictable story about a boy in need of a family, and a family that is struggling but can’t turn him away. It is at times predictable, occasionally obvious and always entertaining.

When you have the story of an alienated youth and a family, you can somewhat expect what will happen right from the start. The details will be different, but in the end, you know that it will either have at least a somewhat happy ending, or be a seriously messed up movie. People don’t generally enjoy watching likable kids end up on the streets fighting to survive, so a certain level of predictability is not only expected, it is appreciated.

And that is exactly what you get with Win Win. There are flashes of originality sprinkled throughout, but in general you know what to expect. It is a dramedy, never veering too far into either comedy or drama, but the balance is an expertly handled one–thanks to writer and director Thomas McCarthy (The Station Agent, The Visitor), and strong performances by the entire cast, especially Paul Giamatti and newcomer Alex Shaffer. This film is subtle, and in that understated fashion, it relies on the little things. A look between characters, or a single line from a supporting character that adds life to the film and helps you relate to the situation.  The characters are believable and ring true, and they still manage to be entertaining and engaging.  Because of that, Win Win is one of the better films of the year so far.

The Details

Mike Flaherty (Giamatti) is an average American. He has a wife, kids, and a growing mountain of bills that he cannot pay. His New Jersey-based legal practice that specializes in helping elderly clients cannot be maintained for much longer, and even his secondary job/hobby as a high school wrestling coach is causing him stress, as his squad has yet to win a match.

When the elderly, but wealthy Leo Poplar (Burt Young) arrives at Mike’s office, it gives him the opportunity to score a little extra cash through harmless, yet somewhat dishonest—if not outright illegal—means. The influx of cash is a boon to Mike and his family, but it also brings with it Kyle Timmons (Alex Schaffer), who arrives in New Jersey from Ohio, looking for his grandfather Leo, who he has never met due to his estranged mother’s relationship with her Dad.

With Leo suffering from dementia, and Kyle refusing to have anything to do with his fresh-out-of-rehab mother, Mike is all Kyle has. Despite the misgivings of Mike’s wife, Jackie (Amy Ryan), Kyle comes to stay with Mike and his family for what is meant to be a brief time. Mike enrolls him at the local school, where he quickly establishes himself as a wrestling prodigy. As the days pass, Kyle and the family grow closer, and when Kyle’s mother Cindy (Melanie Lynskey) arrives with honey on her tongue and ulterior motives on her mind, things begin to go badly. Once Mike’s dealings with Leo come to light, everything changes.

As you might be able to tell, while the details are different—the kid wrestles, Mike may have done some shady dealings and a few other things—you can probably guess where the film is going almost immediately. The tone is set early, and you know that Mike is a guy you can relate to. That is established early on, and the stress of his situation is beginning to show. Mike’s actions with Leo are also fairly harmless, and you know he is not a bad guy. So when Kyle shows up, you can quickly see that Mike is going to protect him. From there the rest is a fill-in-the-dots story with a  few familiar twists. That isn’t a bad thing though. The alienated kid/family drama is a staple of movies, just like the “buddy-cop” genre, or “one guy kills thousands of terrorists to save the day” (or save a bank, or the American way, or whatever).

You know what to expect because it is a tested formula. The story of Win Win follows that formula well. It isn’t the most original plot in history, but it is one of the better examples of it.

win review movie photos 02

Sometimes Being Naive Can be a Boon

Win Win is a character driven film, and because of that it needs to be handled by actors that you will buy into. Giamatti kills it, as always, and proves once again that it is a matter of time before the Academy just chucks an Oscar his way. The real linchpin of this film though is Alex Shaffer, who plays the taciturn star wrestler, Kyle. It works so well, because Shaffer himself was a taciturn star wrestler in real life. Less than a year earlier he was winning a state championship in New Jersey, and after a back injury made it impossible to defend his championship, he turned to acting.

The role of Kyle is a demanding one. The character is the focus of the story, and beyond that it is a meaty role, especially for a young actor. Kyle is dealing with the a scheming mother coming for him directly out of rehab, while he tries to find his place and decide what he wants to do. It would be a difficult role for a seasoned actor, and Shaffer delivers. Part of the reason he is convincing is that he appears genuine on camera. That may be due to natural talent, or maybe he just isn’t experienced enough to try to milk the emotion out of scenes, which is a good thing. You also have to credit McCarthy and Giamatti for getting the performance out of Shaffer that they do.

It also helps that the rest of the cast consists of a ton of talent. Amy Ryan plays Jackie, and it could be argued that she is the heart of the film. As she goes, so goes the audience. While the other characters are dealing with their conflicts somewhat internally, Jackie is the one that you can really gauge the tone of the movie on. When she likes Kyle, so will the crowd, and when she is angry at another character, you will be too. Win Win also has some genuinely funny moments, and the majority of those come from Mike’s friend Terry (Bobby Cannavale), a recent divorcee who volunteers to help coach wrestling to get his mind off his own problems. It isn’t a major role, but it adds humor without taking away from the primary characters.

The best thing about the jobs that the actors do is that they are subtle in their roles. There aren’t any over the top jokes, and the drama is believable because it is somewhat underplayed. The family is in financial troubles, but you won’t see the “evil” bankers threatening foreclosure, or anything like that. Because of it, you can truly relate to the characters and form a bond with them.

When Kyle’s Mom, Cindy, shows up, it is hard not to have mixed feelings for her. You want to hate her to make it easier to root for Mike and his family, and although she does a few things that border on despicable, her role is really to facilitate Kyle to find his own path. In the end it works much better than forcing a heavy-handed climax down the audiences’ throats.

win review movie photos 03


Win Win is one of those movies that won’t break too much ground in terms of originality, but it really is hard not to like it. The cast is fantastic, and while it is too early to tell what kind of career and versatility Shaffer will have, he is a star in this movie.

The thing about Win Win that puts it above other, similar films is that it doesn’t try too hard to force the emotional weight of the situation down on you. The characters are all going through things that many of us have, or could go through, and because of that you relate to the story. The actors then make you buy into it, and from there you will be hooked.

Win Win is not a film for fans of big explosions and fast paced action. It also may not be enough to win over slapstick comedy buffs. But for those looking for a film that is entertaining and well made, you won’t go wrong with Win Win.

Movies & TV

'Halloween' sequel gives new life to an old killer

David Gordon Green's Halloween sequel finds the right balance between the familiar and the new with a terrifying return to the blood-soaked saga of Michael Myers and Laurie Strode.
Social Media

Want internet immortality? Here's how to make the best memes

From Bad Luck Brian to Overly Attached Girlfriend, there's no shortage of memes in the world. But, there's always room for one more. Here's a quick rundown of memes and a guide on how to make your own.
Home Theater

The best movies on Netflix in October, from 'The Witch’ to ‘Black Panther’

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, subdued humor, or anything in between.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'The Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘The Good Place’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Movies & TV

Celebrate the 25th anniversary of ‘The X-Files’ with the show’s 10 best episodes

The X-Files premiered 25 years ago, so here are the 10 best episodes of the award-winning sci-fi series. From alien-abduction drama to hilarious satires, these are the best episodes from all 11 seasons of the hit series.
Movies & TV

‘Orange is the New Black’ will end with season 7, Netflix says

Netflix has confirmed that its award-winning series Orange is the New Black will end its run with the upcoming season 7, bringing the show to an end with a final season premiering in 2019.
Home Theater

They’re not just for gaming: Watch Blu-rays on the Xbox One S and Xbox One X

While the Xbox One S and Xbox One X boost the visuals of your games, they also can pull double-duty as Blu-ray players, but there's a bit of set up needed. Need help? Here's our guide on how to watch Blu-rays on the Xbox One S and X.
Movies & TV

You can ditch cable but still get your 'SportsCenter' fix with ESPN+

ESPN's streaming service, ESPN+, is finally here. Despite appearances, ESPN+ isn't a replacement for your ESPN cable channels, and it differs from other streaming apps in a few key ways.
Movies & TV

Title logo for 'John Wick 3' makes its debut during licensing show

The third installment of the wildly successful action series that stars Keanu Reeves as a deadly assassin forced out of retirement, John Wick 3: Parabellum, hits theaters in May 2019. Here's everything we know about the movie so far.

Michael Myers returns, Jonah Hill goes back to the '90s

This week on Between the Streams, we'll be discussing the latest take on the Halloween saga, aptly titled Halloween, as well as some major TV cancellations, Marvel and DC news, an intriguing new movie from Jonah Hill about the '90s, and…
Movies & TV

Out of movies to binge? Our staff picks the best flicks on Hulu right now

From classics to blockbusters, Hulu offers some great films to its subscribers. Check out the best movies on Hulu, whether you're into charming adventure tales or gruesome horror stories.
Movies & TV

Stay inside this fall with the best shows on Hulu, including 'Castle Rock'

It's often overwhelming to navigate Hulu's robust library of TV shows. To help, we've put together a list of the best shows on Hulu, whether you're into frenetic cartoons, intelligent dramas, or anything in between.
Movies & TV

The best new movie trailers: ‘Curse of La Llorona,’ ‘Jonathan,’ and more

Everyone loves a good trailer, but keeping up with what's new isn't easy. To simplify things, we round up the best ones each week. On tap this week: New trailers for The Curse of La Llarona, The Kid Who Would Be King, and more.
Movies & TV

The best movies on Amazon Prime right now (October 2018)

Prime Video provides subscribers with access to a host of fantastic films, but sorting through the catalog can be an undertaking. Luckily, we've done the work for you. Here are the best movies on Amazon Prime Video right now.