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A mostly 'Win Win' proposition

Posted 11:40am on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2011

Arguably the hottest ticket of Friday night was Win Win, the new comedy-drama from Tom McCarthy, whose career as a writer-director was launched here in 2003 with The Station Agent, and who later went on to make The Visitor. (He sometimes acts, too. You might know him best as Dr. Bob in the Meet the Parents series.) The filmed packed the 1200-seat Eccles center, with dozens on the wait list being turned away.

McCarthy was in jubilant spirits presenting the movie, with virtually the entire cast of the film -- including Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, and Bobby Canavale -- in attendance, and his energy rubbed off on the audience. Would this turn out to be the first great movie of Sundance 2011?

Not exactly -- but Win Win is nothing to gripe about, either. The story follows a put-upon lawyer (Giamatti) struggling to pay the bills, who agrees to become the guardian for one of his wealthy clients (Burt Young) for extra dough. What he doesn’t expect is that the client’s dissolute teenager grandson (newcomer Alex Shaffer) will end up moving in with him, or that his slightly crooked money-making scheme might end up being the ruin of him.

Win Win carries on a little too long, and there are a few too many plot details to keep track of. (The grandson turns out to be an expert high school wrestler, convenient for Giamatti’s character, who coaches the local wrestling team.) Yet the movie has a nice feel for the stresses of modern, spread-thin American life, and the actors -- especially Giamatti and Shaffer, who develop an unexpectedly moving rapport -- are all superb. I suspect it’s ultimately a little too modest to become a breakout hit, but discerning viewers should keep their eyes peeled: It opens in theaters, via distributor Fox Searchlight, in March.

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