Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Thomas McCarthy | Win Win

a far from perfect paradise


Thomas McCarthy (screenplay, based on a story by McCarthy and Joe Tiboni, and director) Win Win / 2011 

Thomas McCarthy’s gentle comedy, Win Win, uses as its title what I presume is an ironic statement. True, Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti), facing financial difficulties, with necessary home and office repairs looming before him, might hope to “win” some extra cash by taking over the guardianship of a local elderly citizen, Leo Poplar (Burt Young) of his pleasant, if down-and-out New Jersey town. And yes, by accident, his caring for Poplar accidently brings
 about the appearance of the old man’s grandson, Kyle Timmons (Alex Shaffer), who just happens to be a remarkable wrestler, which, given Flaherty’s role as a part-time wrestling coach for a constantly losing team, briefly brings him and his friends, Stephen Vigman (Jeffrey Tambor) and Terry Delfino (Bobby Cannavale) some local attention and acclaim. But if this is winning, it is from a loser’s vantage point.
     Indeed, nearly all the characters of this loving investigation into the American Dream, have been so used to losing, that they couldn’t possibly comprehend what it means to truly achieve success. Giamatti portrays Flaherty as a man so accustomed to being defeated that his whole body, like the furnace in his rickety law office, clinks and clunks with the possibility of an inner explosion. Hiding that possibility from his loving wife, Jackie (Amy Ryan) and two daughters, Flaherty, on his early morning runs with his high school buddy, Terry, admits to being near to a complete breakdown. 
      Terry himself is on the verge of explosion as he stakes out his former home where his wife is shaking up with a local carpenter. Like Flaherty, he admits that even at the height of his high-school athletic career he was a lousy athlete. 
      Flaherty’s fellow coach, “Vig” is now so elderly he can hardly demonstrate the wrestling maneuvers he is asked to display to his despondent students.
       Flaherty’s new “responsibility,” Leo, is suffering from increasing dementia, and has long ago given up on his drug-dependent daughter, lost in Ohio, and has written her out of his will, leaving his evidently substantial estate to the city for the establishment of a park in his name.

      And, finally, the Flaherty’s family new adoptee, Kyle—who shows up unexpectedly at Leo’s doorstep a few days after Flaherty has implanted him, despite Leo’s protests, in a local nursing home—appears to be a blonde-haired volcano of sublimated anger, given the years he’s suffered from his mother’s abuse and abandonment.

      Only Flaherty’s wife, Jackie, given her constant empathy and loving demeanor seems to be winning in this total loser society. 
      Despite the fact that this is a world of losers, or, perhaps because of it, we sympathize and even grow to love these very ordinary people—whom, fortunately, McCarthy never quite sentimentalizes nor forces them into corners as small town eccentrics—and wish that we too could believe that things for them are now looking up. But we also know that the other, metaphorical shoe has to drop, which it does with slightly horrifying effects when Kyle’s “missing” mother, Cindy (Melanie Lynskey) suddenly shows up with a lawyer at her side.
     They know that Flaherty has not only taken over the guardianship of Cindy’s father for the fee of $1,500 while depositing him in an assisted-living home, and have come to claim for father (with his hefty estate) and son.
      Recognizing the error (an inherent immorality) of his ways, Flaherty is willing to give up the monthly fee in order to protect both his older client and his now beloved young board—who realizing the truth of what has happened to his grandfather, purposely loses the final wrestling match through excessive force, rejects his new would-be model parent. In short, if there was ever a “win-win” possibility, it has been destroyed by the very structure of these losers’ world
      What we have perhaps forgotten, McCarthy suggests, is that these human failures—like most of us—nonetheless do care and feel deep human love as do the Flahertys, who finally facing the ordinary  truths of their lives, determine to fight for their human commitments.

       Had the writer-director permitted forces to proceed to a real court-trial, we realize, this committed family might surely have lost, and both Leo and Kyle would have been shuttled off to Columbus, Ohio to live out their lives in further peridy. But McCarthy, fortunately is a moralist, and saves the day by remembering that Cindy, herself, is also a loser, willing to settle for Flaherty’s offer to pay her his guardianship fee, freeing her from having to pretend to take on the responsibilities of human relationships she has never been able to which she has never been able to commit.
       So what if Flaherty has to take on yet another job as a late night bartender to make ends meet? Did anyone explain to him that the paradise wherein he lives might not be everything to which it pretends?  

Los Angeles, December 1, 2015

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