Win Win

20th Century Fox, 2011, Rated R

Stories about real people dealing with real situations are an endangered species in a contemporary American moviemaking landscape dominated by lowest-common-denominator teen-oriented fare and creativity-deficient sequels. Writer/director Tom McCarthy is doing his best to fight against this development.

A Yale-trained actor, McCarthy turned to filmmaking in part because the types of movies he wanted to see and be a part of — genre-defying, character-driven pieces that also touch on larger themes — weren’t being made. His directorial debut, The Station Agent, which centers on a dwarf who seeks solitude in an abandoned New Jersey train station, grabbed a number of justified accolades at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival and signaled the arrival of a filmmaker who valued offbeat comedy as much as he did in telling unique stories about people struggling to create surrogate families.

McCarthy’s perceptive and unexpectedly affecting 2007 follow-up, The Visitor, hinges on the unlikely bond between an illegal immigrant and a lonely economics professor (beautifully played by Richard Jenkins).

Now comes Win Win, the genre-juggling story of Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti), a middling attorney in suburban New Jersey who volunteers as a high school wrestling coach when not doing his best to support his wife (Amy Ryan), young daughter and best friend (a hilarious Bobby Cannavale). Flaherty’s world is altered when a gifted wrestler (acting newcomer Alex Shaffer) appears seemingly out of nowhere — an unlikely turn of events that leads to complex questions about the sometimes ethically dubious ways in which we make excuses for our choices in life and how they impact those around us.

The various “special features” that accompany the DVD/Blu-ray release of the film include a pair of conversations with McCarthy and childhood buddy/Win Win co-writer Joe Tiboni, the unpretentious everyman who inspired Giamatti’s Flaherty, the type of guy whose everyday struggles are portrayed far too infrequently on the big screen. Grade: A-

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