Monday, March 28, 2011

Fox's "conservative" comedy about eldercare, sports, and teen (and grownup redemption), "Win Win"

There have been a few other little films about eldercare (“The Savages”, “Away From Her”, and "That Evening Sun" [here, Feb 16]), but the new “dramedy” written and directed by Thomas McCarthy, Fox Searchlight and Everest Entertainment, “Win Win”, adds a most uplifting element, the idea that a perceptive youth can see though all the much and game-playing.

Paul Giamatti  (“the chick pea”) continues is comic roles as an eldercare lawyer Mike Flaherty in New Providence, NJ, struggling to make do with his failing practice in an old office that needs a boiler. When presented with an elderly client Leo (Burt Young) with mild dementia, he gets the State to make itself a guardian and uses his “authority” to take him out of his home and put him into assisted living, because he (the lawyer) can make commission money off of it, although we don’t get that at first.  All things move into the world of Shakespearian comedy as the Leo’s athletically gifted grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer) and subsequently the neglectful daughter Cindy (Melanie Lynskey) show up.

Kyle, despite his own troubled past from parental neglect – he had once stolen a car, and had given up wrestling and was now smoking -- turns himself around when Flaherty starts showing some substitute fatherly interest in his potential. Quickly, he is enrolled in high school and goes on the wrestling team, where he wins every individual match, practically. He quits smoking, makes weight, develops discipline, and wants to help care for his grandfather.  And he quickly figures out all the scheming of both his mother and Flaherty himself, and comes out with great one liners.  This is a feature debut by teen actor Alex Shaffer, and it is overpowering.  Is Shaffer another future Ed Norton?  He could lose the upper back tattoos, but his physical appearance (with the artificially blond mop on top) and body language are commanding.  His YouTube video at Sundance (below) indicates that in real life he was or is a high school wrestling star in New Jersey.
The high school wrestling matches and drills – Flaherty is a coach, but he is backed up by Bobby Cannavale and Jeffrey Tambor – are themselves comical and revelatory, a glimpse into a slightly macho world of the bygone past.

Much of the film was actually shot on Long Island.  New Providence is in northern NJ, on US 22. 
The eldercare theme is still an important topic that movies should do more.  Many states have filial responsibility laws that could be used to compel adult children to pay for or provide care for their parents.  Ohio (where the kid comes from) has such a law; I don’t know whether New Jersey does.

I suppose this film would meet the “conservative moviegoers list” with its redemptive values. Late Sunday afternoon, it played to an almost full house at Landmark E Street in downtown DC in a large auditorium.  It’s shot in regular 1:85:1 aspect, which emphasizes the closeups.

Fox’s site for the film is here


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