Paul Giamatti will never be a sex symbol or even a super star... but he should be both. Giamatti can run the gamut of emotions and is equally stellar in serious roles and comedic performances. He steals every scene he's in, taking on weirder, less mainstream roles with charisma to spare. But face it, Giamatti, with his bug eyes and ever-widening girth is a born character actor. And even though he might get the girl and even get to have sex, he is just not sexy.
In Win Win, balding and dumpy Giamatti portrays a suburban good guy, honest lawyer and high school wrestling coach who finds the perfect escape from his financial troubles by acting as the legal caretaker of an elderly client. His plan hits a wall and the situation spins out of control when his client's troubled grandson arrives on the scene.
This is actor/director Tom McCarthy's third film, but it instead feels like his first. His first two movies, The Station Agent and The Visitor were "feel good" movies that actually made me feel good, but his theme of "sharply defined personalities whose lives are interrupted by strangers" is running thin.
When it comes down to it, Win Win is an ensemble piece with characters allowed equal shots at our attention, their subtle underplaying yanking out higher emotions. The standout cast includes Amy Ryan (who plays Holly on The Office) as a supportive wife, best friend and motormouth Bobby Cannavale and old coot Burt Young. The highlight is newcomer Alex Shaffer as the troubled teen wrestling "ringer" who brings to mind Jeff Spicoli, but without the humorous, stoner edge.
Giamatti gives us hope and heart in every performance, from the relatable loser in Sideways and American Splendor to the wacked-out singer in Duets and Andy Kauffman's best friend in Man in the Moon. His nice guy quality is used to the hilt in Win Win. But the underlying explosive character is what we are waiting for. Giamatti's rage is so rarely scene that it's just plain fun to see him yell. We need to see him explode more; what has he got to lose? We may not want to see him naked, but I'd like to see a raging, drooling Giamatti maniac bursting at the seams for two hours. Who knows? That might be a turn-on for some.
Win's last act turns heavy and is steeped in seriousness, almost defying the rest of the film. However, the simple and compelling performances are worth the price of admission.
Starring Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale, Alex Shaffer, Burt Young
Directed by Tom McCarthy