Win Win (Thomas McCarthy, 2011)

Looking back at my review of The Visitor (2008), I noticed that along with my face-palm-poor writing skills, that my problems with Win Win are largely the same as Mr. McCarthy’s ‘08 efforts. It’s interesting how inherently pleasant both Win Win and The Visitor happen to be, despite the demanding situations that characters find themselves in. The central figures of both films are positioned well on the economic spectrum, at least to the point that they’re able to get by on what they have. A wrench is thrown into their proverbially mundane lives – characters are tested on their code of ethics, where lines are drawn to separate the good from the bad. But both films require a level of dramatic tension that never really elevates the situation beyond the pleasant – at best, characters in Win Win and The Visitor experience mild discomfort.

Despite my complaints, Win Win is elevated by the strengths of its colossal acting shoulders. Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Jeffrey Tambor, Burt Young, Melanie Lynskey, and especially Alex Shaffer all bring something extra to flesh out a barebones script. Wrestling sequences highlight both Win Win’s more genuine attempts at humor as well as some exciting moments of athleticism. These moments, along with the strong ensemble performance, are almost successful in distracting the audience from the questionable logical, moral, and social statements that the film makes.

Win Win affords its lead characters the opportunity of making mistakes, learning from them, and therein moving on. What ought to be acknowledged is the glaring social differences between the chosen “good” and “bad”, and the similar motivation behind their actions.  The central “good” characters decide upon serious issues without a passing thought, yet the film carries a particularly judgmental tone toward other characters that embark upon similar deviant behavior. This perceived privilege of the (struggling) middle-class over those of the (struggling) lower class left me in stunned awe – why are we led to perceive that one character’s actions are within reason, while the other’s not?  Win Win’s ending only reaffirms this sense of hegemonic dominance, as our upper-class hero throws a bone to our lower-class villain – with the stipulation being “just leave us alone”. There’s something remarkably distressing about this notion, as one is in a clear position of power, the other is not, yet they both essentially committed the same deviant act. If the ending affirms anything, it’s that the middle class and the lower class are best left separated at a distance – lower class problems only muck things up.

Rating: 4/10