Giamatti plays a husband and father, a pillar of the community, but his business is slowly drying up. Does he admit to his lovely missus (Amy Ryan) that he’s struggling to keep up? Or somehow bluff it out and hope something turns up? Enter rich, elderly regular client (Burt Young, faithful sidekick in the ‘Rocky’ pics), a man sliding towards dementia. If he goes into care, Giamatti will lose a precious monthly retainer, but a bit of legal chicanery enables him to sign up as the old boy’s official guardian, put him in a home and still pocket the payment. It’s not strictly above board, but what other choice did he have?
McCarthy and Giamatti’s handling of this turning point underlines the film’s quality. Neither of them are at all obvious about it, but they leave the viewer in little doubt that the ramifications of this utterly human, less-than-noble decision will make their presence felt eventually. In the meantime, the movie shifts into a slightly different gear with the surprise arrival of Young’s teenage grandson (Alex Shaffer), seeking refuge from his single mum’s substance-abuse issues, and a wrestling champ who could boost the fortunes of the local high school team coached by… Giamatti.
There’s a state competition, trials and tribulations, the usual triumph-of-the-underdog trimmings – familiar fare, though Shaffer is a captivatingly believable presence as the disaffected adolescent grappler on whom the story turns. There’s an element of movie-movie feelgood routine here which wasn’t present in McCarthy’s earlier pictures, even if the overall theme of how our lives are enriched by unexpected connections taking us outside our comfort zone remains something of a constant.
In a way, though, what’s just delightful about this wittily observed and touchingly truthful affair is the fact it offers consistently sherbety entertainment in the moment but ultimately holds to its purpose of saying something useful and genuine about real lives. A tricky balancing act indeed, though with loveable cohorts like Jeffrey Tambor and Bobby Cannavale on hand as Giamatti’s buddy network, one always likely to be played out with smiles rather than furrowed brow.
Still, the film is disarmingly defiant in its insistence that our quotidian dilemmas are indeed the stuff of rich moral drama – or should that be comedy? When even indie cinema these days is heavily invested in the cute and the gimmicky, that’s saying something, and Giamatti’s insightful, pitch-perfect, truly relatable central turn seals the deal. Everybody wins.