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Film Review: 'Win Win'

March 31, 2011 2:04 a.m.

KPBS Film Critic Beth Accomando reviews "Win Win" and speaks with director Tom McCarthy.

Related Story: Review: 'Win Win'


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

KPBS-FM Radio Film Feature: “Win Win” and interview with Tom McCarthy
By Beth Accomando
Air date: March 31, 2011

With films like “The Station Agent” and “The Visitor,” filmmaker Tom McCarthy has revealed a knack for making films about real people. Now he looks to a high school wrestling coach for his latest film “Win Win.” KPBS film critic Beth Accomando speaks with the filmmaker.

WINWIN (ba).wav SOQ 3:50 (music out at 4:01)

(Tag:) "Win Win" opens tomorrow (Friday) AMC La Jolla and Landmark's Hillcrest Cinemas. Check out Beth's Cinema Junkie blog on Friday for a video of the interview on at K-P-B-S-dot-O-R-G.

Filmmaker Tom McCarthy wrestled in high school and he wanted to draw on some of those experiences for his new film "Win Win."

CLIP We used to have a coach that used to smack us up the side of the head like happens in the movie... Can you give me a slap?... What?... Give me a slap across the face like you are trying to wake me up? (:09)

"Win Win" is a sports film but one filtered through McCarthy's unique perspective. KPBS film critic Beth Accomando speaks with the filmmaker coming up next on Morning Edition.

“Win Win” opens with Paul Giamatti struggling to jog over relatively flat terrain.

CLIP jogging

Then we cut to his family at home in bed.

CLIP Mommy, where’s daddy?... Running… From what?

With a couple shots and a mere half dozen words filmmaker Tom McCarthy has crafted the perfect introduction to the character of Mike Flaherty. That’s efficient filmmaking because we immediately I.D. Mike as both a family man and as someone struggling through life. We also get a taste of the film's sense of humor. But what McCarthy doesn't do is tell you where his film is going. That's something he lets unfold more slowly.

TOM McCARTHY: What I try to do is take my time with my films especially at the beginning so that the audience really has a moment to live, to be with these people, these characters, get to know them, get to judge them.

But hopefully to judge them as good people. And Mike is a decent guy. He runs a tiny law practice in New Jersey specializing in elderly clients. In his spare time he coaches the high school's losing wrestling team. One day he sees an opportunity to take advantage of a tempting situation. And that dilemma interested McCarthy.

TOM McCARTHY: … this story of a decent family man who was really grappling with or wrestling with his own sense of responsibility and ethics. And how to marry the two in tight times. How to make responsible decisions and at the same time perform his duties or what he perceives as his duties, which is to take care of his family.

What he does is take over the guardianship of Mr. Popler, an elderly man with dementia so that he can collect the $1500 a month stipend. But then a relative unexpectedly shows up.

CLIP You looking for Mr. Popler?... he’s my grandfather I came to live with him…

Popler's grandson Kyle complicates things for Mike and the audience.

TOM McCARTHY: What happens when we see someone like that make a bad decision? That we know is wrong? That was very compelling to me. Because I think it happens more often than not… it’s decent people making bad choices, making bad decisions, how do we reconcile that?

But Mike finds unlikely inspiration in Kyle, a slightly sullen teen with a gift for wrestling. Mike's life has gotten so bad that he feels envious of the teenager's talent.

CLIP What’s it like to be as good as you are… like I’m in control of everything… must be nice…

Mike feels like his life is spinning out of control and Kyle feels like he can only control things on the wrestling mat. But Kyle's success comes in part from the difficulties he's had to face in real life.

TOM McCARTHY: It’s not so much about the ABC’s of wrestling or what particular move he’s gonna make it’s much more of an emotional game for him now that he has mastered the craft of wrestling, sadly it’s drawing on a lot of personal pain that he had to experience.

McCarthy was particularly pleased with real life teen wrestler Alex Shaffer who plays Kyle.

TOM McCARTHY: You sort of get that although he’s very quiet and reserved, there’s still something, the mind is working under there you can kind of see it happen which I think felt very authentic to me. I think he found a way to be, to make his directness be very charming.

McCarthy serves up a sports film but one filtered through his own unique prism -- sports are there to reflect the characters and illuminate them. In the end, McCarthy delivers a satisfying but not conventional ending, one in which Mike and Kyle both reassert control over their lives.

TOM McCARTHY: … My feeling is when audiences connect with characters they are going to go for the ride. They are going to believe it, they are going to enjoy that experience.

And that's one thing you can count on in McCarthy's films, connecting with the characters.

For KPBS, I'm Beth Accomando.