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Review: Win Win

Life is a fluid thing. You may keep above the water, but for the most part you just try to keep with the waves. Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) is currently doggy paddling. Every time he turns around there is an expense for a few thousand dollars, his practice is currently stalling, the tree in the front of the yard needs to be removed and the high school wrestling team he coaches is terrible. Mike is in serious need of a win.

That opportunity comes along in the form of Leo Poplar (Burt Young), a former businessman who is currently suffering from dementia. The state is about to put him in a home, but Mike can become his guardian and make $1,500 a month in the process. His gut tells him it's wrong, but no one gets hurt and $1,500 a month could solve a lot of problems.

Just as Mike has thought he pulled out a victory, fate appears in the form of Leo's grandson, Kyle (Alex Shaffer, who masters the one-word response mentality of this generation). Mike finds Kyle sitting on a door stoop, blonde mop and all, trying to find his grandfather. Kyle's mother is in rehab and he could use a place to stay.

To Mike and Jackie's (Amy Ryan) delight, not only is Kyle a decent house guest, but he also is a natural wrestler. Things seem to be turning up again for Mike, money isn't an issue, Kyle is dominating his league, and the family dynamic seems to benefit from Kyle's addition. Yet things can never be that easy, so in comes the crest of the wave as Cindy (Melanie Lynskey) the mother from hell comes in and decides to play house.

Win Win is about finding the few opportunities in life to do the right thing and the thing that helps the most. What's most refreshing about the film is it presents a picture all to familiar in today's economy. One of the reasons why Tom McCarthy's film is such a pleasure to watch is the genuine interactions between the actors. Paul Giamatti and Amy Ryan are exactly the type of people you would expect to be a married couple in a blue collar New Jersey town.

A comedy that can make people laugh without resorting to monkeys smoking cigarettes is truly something worth smiling about. Tom McCarthy is the humanist that cinema needs.

***1/2 out of ****

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