Giamatti on top form in Win Win

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AS is the case with most of the films he has appeared in, you can’t help but sympathise with Paul Giamatti’s character in Win Win.

Mike Flaherty is an all-round decent guy. Loving husband, father, dedicated wrestling coach to a team who has never won a match, stoical jogger. He is also a lawyer in a failing practice which seems to deal almost exclusively with elderly clients and which is housed above a decrepit boiler threatening to explode.

With the household bills piling up and panic attacks rendering him immobile, Mike makes a decision to set out along a morally dubious path by becoming the legal guardian of one of his clients - Leo (Burt Young) - who is suffering from dementia.

Despite promising a court that he would help Leo to remain in his own home, Mike promptly deposits the old fellow in a nursing home while continuing to pocket the $1500 cheque he receives for his services each month. (He also continues to visit Leo at the home, as a way to appease the sense of guilt he feels over his behaviour).

Then Leo’s grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer) shows up out of the blue, a scruffy, drawling, blond haired runaway trying to escape his drug-addicted mother and her abusive boyfriend. Oh, and who also happens to be an ace wrestler with a strong moral compass.

Mike and his wife Jackie (The Wire’s Amy Ryan) take the boy in, and despite some initial mistrust, soon warm to the youngster who becomes part of the family. With his financial woes solved, and the wrestling team doing better than it ever has before thanks to Kyle, Mike’s passion for life is re-ignited.

However, it is inevitable that his deceit is revealed when Kyle’s mother and Leo’s estranged daughter shows up, apparently drug-free and ready to take on the care of her father.

Observant, witty and frequently funny, Win Win is the story of a nice guy pushed to breaking point. The only part that didn’t ring completely true was the ending, which tied the loose ends up into a pretty little bow - life is rarely that neat.

***

I’ve never been a particularly big Kate Hudson fan, but after seeing Something Borrowed, my feelings now verge on active dislike.

She plays Darcy, a twenty-something New York girl about town who is months away from marrying the dashing Dex (Colin Egglesfield), six years after being introduced by life-long best friend Rachel (Ginnifer Goodwin).

Rachel and Dex went to law-school together and were in the process of falling in love (albeit painfully slowly and shyly), when Darcy flounced onto the scene and all but wrenched him away for herself.

Rather than take umbrage at this, the self-flagellating Rachel continues to let Darcy call the shots in their relationship and remain the centre of attention at every twist and turn.

With a dynamic about as conducive to a fulfilling friendship as a piece of roadkill and a lorry, I spent the entire film questioning why anyone would a) want to be friends with this woman and b) want to marry her.

The plot is thus: Rachel and Dex sleep together behind Darcy’s back. Both feel horribly guilty, but are clearly in love with each other. They hum and haw about what to do. Endlessly.

What could have been an intelligent chick-flick about missed opportunities, friendship, loyalty and love, has been churned out as a pantomime with a gross caricature at its centre. Avoid.