Win Win (Blu-ray Review)

Win Win is the kind of movie I hope remains looked at as one of the early pleasures of 2011.  I do not think it will necessarily be one of my favorites of the year (honorable mention, sure), but it has the kind of charm and humor that makes for a movie I want many people to see.  Paul Giamatti leads a talented cast, in a film that is a comedy-drama about family, teenage angst, and wrestling.  While plot complications may pile on top of each other, it is the natural human qualities that makes this film work and feel authentic, especially with its humor.  I’m glad to have now had a chance to give the Blu-ray a look as well.


Paul Giamatti stars as Mike Flaherty, a struggling, but happily married Lawyer, who moonlights as a high school wrestling coach.  Mike lives in Providence, New Jersey, with his wife Jackie (Amy Ryan) and two young children.  At his law practice, Mike is dealing with too few cases coming in and bills to pay.  He has begun jogging with his best friend (the hilarious Bobby Cannavale) in an attempt to reduce his stress level.  As far as the wrestling team goes, it’s not great either.  Along with his assistant coach, played by Jeffrey Tambor, Mike does what he can with a team that has been on a long losing streak.

In a desperate act, Mike makes a move that puts one of his clients, Leo (Burt Young), in an elder care facility, while Mike is given the role of guardian.  This has him taking care of Leo’s home, while also receiving compensation.  What Mike did not plan on, was the arrival of Leo’s grandson, Kyle (Alex Shaffer), who has ran away from home, looking to stay with his grandfather.  Kyle is awkward and distant (a fairly standard teenager), so Mike has little choice but to take him in for the time being, until he can locate his mother and figure things out.  While this proves difficult, Kyle also proves himself to be quite the capable wrestler.  Kyle soon enrolls in school and joins the team, but as well as things seem to be becoming, some complications may arise that could be tough to pin down.

The film was written and directed by Tom McCarthy, who previously made two great films, The Station Agent and The Visitor, and co-wrote Up.  I am a fan of this man’s work.  In Win Win, McCarthy does what has worked well for him the past, create a story about everyday people and derive comedy with heart from the situation.  There is a lot of humor in this film, which is very much a given, due to the presence of Tambor and particularly Cannavale, who has a lot of fun playing a guy revisiting his days as a younger guy, psyched about team sports.  The film is not necessarily showy in its direction, but it is the writing that brings out the warmth in this film.

Adding to that aspect are the performances.  Giamatti does the kind of work that makes acting look effortless.  He is pitch perfect as a good natured man, caught in a tough spot, and doing what he can to help.  It is a role that emphasized how nice a character Giamatti can play, when he does not have to layer it with some of the smarmier or sad sack qualities he has put in other characters (as good as he is at those as well). Also very good is Amy Ryan as Giamatti’s wife.  I will get to Shaffer’s performance soon, but I found the relationship between Ryan and Shaffer’s characters to be the most interesting and effective one in the film.  Her work is very suited to the film, and her chemistry with the others felt very natural.  Shaffer has the trickiest role in the film.  In addition to being a newcomer actor, he has to create a character that is obviously troubled, yet funny and likable, while being very minimal in his delivery.  He pulls this off well enough, even if his anger does not quite approach the talent of his veteran costars.  Effective work from Melanie Lynskey as Kyle’s mother, Cindy as well.  She comes into the film fairly late, serving as a disturbance in the plot, but does well with her part.

I think the aspect that needs to be emphasized most is how well this film delivers on its title.  It is a very winning film.  It takes a family drama and a sports film and combines the two.  Yet, it also strays from simple conventions.  There is a structure that feels appropriate, sure, but we also do not have to think much of “the big game” moment or overcoming a great adversity, as the wrestling team is the underdog in this film.  This movie does not sink itself into sports movie clichés, nor does it dwell too much on melodrama.  Really, it is all about the characters, and they are well developed characters that make this a very likable movie.  If this movie reaches a theater near you, it is certainly a winner.


Win Win is presented with a very clean 1080p AVC-encoded transfer.  While not a film that needs to visually jump out at you, it still manages to have almost everything one would hope for, in terms of Blu-ray video quality, balanced out for the better.  Colors and textures are nice and sharp.  The palette of the film is properly represented.  Little details are all very present and feel noticeably alive within the film.  For a small production that is focused on being a comedic-drama, I am glad that Fox Searchlight went out of their way to make sure the film looked great on Blu-ray.


Similarly, the audio quality on this disc is well handled.  The Blu-ray features a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, which does the film wonders as well.  I say wonders, even though the film relies heavily on its dialogue as well as many quiet scenes.  While the dialogue all comes across nice and clear, it is in the quiet scenes where one can see how all of the background elements come into play on this Blu-ray.  As a result, you get a film that has been well worked on in terms of properly mixing the audio for everyone’s overall satisfaction, as they listen to a film that provides fine audio quality, given the disc that it is on.  Hearing the original music by Lyle Workman in this film is a nice plus as well.

Special Features:

A bit scant on the extra features side of thing, but not a terrible sin.  It’s still not enough to earn a higher grade, but at least all of the features are presented in HD.  I really wish there could have been a commentary track, but I guess that wasn’t in the cards this time around.  Features include:

Deleted Scenes – Two scenes, pretty brief.

Tom McCarthy and Joe Tiboni discuss Win Win – A short little convo, where writer/director McCarthy and co-writer Tiboni go into the origins of this film.

David Thompson at Sundance – The Stemmler character from the film gets to have a little adventure during his time at Sundance.

In Conversation with Tom McCarthy and Paul Giamatti at Sundance – Another very short convo about the film.  Simple to take in, little to take out of it.

Family – Basically a few scattered interviews in another short featurette.

“Think You Can Wait” Music Video by The National – I am a fan of The National, so I am happy to have a music video by them available to me on this disc.

Theatrical Trailer

Final Thoughts:

As far as I am concerned, writer/director Tom McCarthy has made three great films thus far.  The Station Agent, The Visitor, and now Win Win are wonderful films to go and check out.  For Win Win, in particular, there is certainly a lot to take out of this film.  It is funny, with well-earned dramatic beats, as well as very well acted.  I would fully recommend this film and the Blu-ray that it is presented on.  Even with the few extras available, it still does well at having a great audio/video presentation for a film that is a great joy to watch.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

1 Response to “Win Win (Blu-ray Review)”

  1. Sean Ferguson

    I’m looking forward to seeing this!