Win Win

Film, Comedy
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  • 3 out of 5 stars
(17user reviews)
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Win Win
The title says ‘Win Win’, the central character’s wallet says ‘How do I pay the bills next month?’ Just how New Jersey lawyer Paul Giamatti (or indeed any of us) responds to the pressures of the everyday grind is the nub of this latest from Tom McCarthy, who has carved out a name for himself as a master of sweet-natured, serious comedy with ‘The Station Agent’ and ‘The Visitor’.

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.

By: Tom Huddleston


Release details

Rated: 15
Release date: Friday May 20 2011
Duration: 106 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Thomas McCarthy
Cast: Paul Giamatti
Amy Ryan
Jeffrey Tambor

Average User Rating

2.8 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:1
  • 4 star:4
  • 3 star:6
  • 2 star:3
  • 1 star:0
1 person listening

I really dont get how this can be classed as a comedy. There needs to be a new film category that better classifies a movie of this type (like Cedar Rapids, little Miss Sunshine etc). Maybe Quirky Slow Moving Drama is a more apt category rather than comedy. Its one of those movies that critics seem to love but if you are in the mood for a comedy then most punters just go "m'eh - its okay"


A very engaging film, my mind didn't wander off at all to what to cook for dinner that evening! I found the film warm and the characters people you'd want to have in your life. I would have to agree with some comments it wasn't an overly funny film, more to chuckle to rather than bell laugh.


I don't understand why anyone could fail to be charmed by this rather sweet and human film


I don't understand why anyone could fail to be charmed by this rather sweet and human film

long cat

How magzines gave this 4 stars is beyond me. A slow boring waste of celluloid. Paul Giamatti is wasted on such timid tripe. The actors were classy enough but the story (billed as a hilarious comedy) was NOT funny just a dreary run of the mill drama. 5 people in the cinema to watch it three walked out by 45 mins.

Rancho Relaxos

formulaic, expected more.Don't know why people bother making fillums that have been made time after time after time. Nice to see Burt Young, though and Tambor does say 'hey now', which for sanders fans, was worth it.


Really rather ordinary drama with quirks (and if there's quirks, who you gonna call? GIA-MATTI!) that neither offends or impresses. If you won't miss £5 - £10 pounds it's fine, if not rent BARNEY'S VERSION (which I had the pleasure of watching shortly before this) This latest "lot's of cast on a bench pulling different faces ad" film? 6/10

Phil Ince

Everyone dies at the end. I wonder if cinema goers in some parts of London are especially prone to ulceration of the arsehole, Mike? Nobody in Soho, Islington or Hackney ever leaves the cinema when we go. It is quite a bland film and very predictable, rather like a feature-length episode of a 80s Yank family drama. Matt77 had the same difficulty as me; the film hinges on a dishonest act by the Giametti character but the film seems almost afraid of making him look like a crook (which he is; it seems similarly 'scared' of the junkie, absentee mother). It doesn't really set the dilemma up well-enough or make enough of it so it just becomes a nicely-played piece of soap. I don't think the makers wanted to deal in any realistic way with the difficulties of the characters. It's a fantasy, really. La-La-Land.


Being a Giamatti fan I was looking forward to seeing this movie on Tuesday evening – never particularly busy at the flicks. I can only say I think the film is well intentioned – all the right ingredients are there: good actors, fairly good storyline, not bad script – but for some reason it doesn’t seem to work. At best the pace of this film is a little laboured – around about half-way through I was thinking of leaving but held off, and then maybe 3 of the 20-ish audience left, and then a little later a couple left, then towards the end a few more, leaving about 12 of us when the film finished. Something is definitely wrong with the pace of this film. . If you think of other Giamatti films – American Splendor, Barney’s Version, and Duplicity, they all have a great unpredictable storylines, and strong grains of humour running through them. I don’t think the same can be said of Win Win. . Good try, but this is never going to be considered Giamatti’s best. 2 stars.


After seeing a 4-starred review I found this film disappointing, but to be fair it was reasonably engaging. The problem is that it didn't particularly succeed at being moving, gripping or deeply thought-provoking. It just wasn't really going anywhere. I did find it unsettling for my own reasons. ... SPOILER ALERT ... NO REALLY, THIS IS A SPOILER ... I just can't understand why the central character would have committed the early betrayal that he commits. It's just totally needless, given what's at stake for him. Totally stupid. Would he really do that? No. Stupid. And that moment is kind of the lynchpin of the plot. Still, it's engaging enough to earn 3 stars, I think.


I enjoyed it too. Paul Giamatti immensely watchable as ever and complimented well by the equally funny and believable Amy Ryan. For me, the ending wasn't dull, just understated and truthful like the rest of the film. Didn't feel it was "male-orientated" either, the female characters are well drawn and the film's themes are definitely universal.


Entered the auditorium expecting to see a different film, so you can't Win Win 'em all. The film? Engaging, very domestic and unspectacular, but a compelling theme. Amazingly male-oriented. Well acted. Dull ending.

Gregg Bowen

Agree with Jenny's comments. Shaffer and Giamatti were both brilliantly vulnerable in this enaging story


A gem of a film - beautifully acted, really enjoyable with characters you care about. One of the best films I have seen in a while.