Tom McCarthy's greatest gift as a writer and director is his talent for creating characters and situations that play out a lot like real life — his protagonists feel as true and tangible as next-door neighbors. “Win Win” has the basic architecture of a sports-underdog movie, but at its core is an important idea that was also central to “The Visitor” and “The Station Agent”: that people often assemble improvised families without even thinking about it.
Before that happens, Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) already has a great traditional family. He and his wife, Jackie (Amy Ryan), live with their two daughters in suburban New Jersey, where Mike scrapes together a modest living as a small-time attorney. They never have a lot of money lying around, and the afternoons Mike puts in as the high school wrestling coach aren't spiking his income much, either. The basics of life are nickel-and-diming him, and that furnace that clangs away below his office isn't going to fix itself.
Then, Mike finds himself in a competency hearing with Leo Poplar (Burt Young), an elderly man in the early stages of dementia. Leo's only daughter is estranged, and Mike has a brilliant idea: He'll take over guardianship of Leo, put him in an assisted living facility and pocket the $1,500 court-awarded stipend each month. Leo's safe, Mike gets a steady check — win win.
But then Kyle (Alex Shaffer), a quiet kid with his tousled hair bleached nearly white, shows up at Leo's old house while Mike is checking on the property. Kyle is Leo's grandson, and his mother back in Ohio is undergoing drug rehab. Mike takes Kyle in, enrolls him in school and brings him along to wrestling practices. It does not take long for Kyle to give up his secret — he's a wrestling prodigy. No one stands a chance against the kid, and Mike and his assistant coach Stephen (Jeffrey Tambor) see state championships in their
R 1:46 3½ stars
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Alex Shaffer, Jeffrey Tambor, Bobby Cannavale.