2 “The Station Agent” + 2 “Vision Quest” = 4 Win-Win
More astounding than any of Hollywood’s special effects, this year gave us Coach Paul Giamatti and Manager Phillip Seymour Hoffman. These make no sense, until you find out that Hoffman was cast by his “Capote” director to be the foil in a boardroom drama and Giamatti, in “Win Win,” is a broke lawyer who embroils himself in an ethical boondoggle. Giamati is Mike Flaherty, who shares an office with a broken boiler with Stephen (Jeffrey Tambor), and who’s having acute money troubles. Jackie (Amy Ryan) is the tough-as-nails mother of the family he can’t bear to disappoint. Mike is taking guardianship cases and coaching high school wrestling to make ends meet, but it’s gotten so bad he starts entertaining schemes to make a few extra hundred a month. Eventually, he tells a judge he’ll take guardianship over Leo (Burt Young), and elderly client who pays well to keep him in his home. Mike pockets the money and moves him to the home, fully intending to lie to the judge at the hearing a few months down the road.
All the while, Mike’s wrestling team is populated by pasty wimps who can’t fill out their singlets, and his recently divorced, slightly-off BFF Terry (Bobby Canavale) wants to help coach. Not to give away too much plot, but the thing with Leo gets complicated, and Mike ends up housing Kyle, a runaway wrestling prodigy who’s to the New Jersey 125 lbs weight class what Megatron is to the Autobots.
Kyle is played by Alex Shafer, an virtually unknown young actor who is actually a wrestling prodigy. Amateur wrestling fans will recognize that the kid knows what he’s doing, and Giamatti has ably learned the language and technique of the sport. That we expected, along with Amy Ryan’s no-shit mom routine. Unexpected is the quiet intensity and understated rage of Shafer. This is the standard brooding genius, the kid who unleashes the hell inside him onto the field/court/mat. Still, Shafer never lets Kyle simply be misunderstood, but rather the kid who pins his anger inside. You see him wrestle with himself, and occasional gives glimpses of what he’s holding back. This gives the movie an edge that keeps it from turning into an after-school special.