If I could figure out a way to get paid for it, I would devote 40 hours per week to promoting the films of director Thomas McCarthy. They are funny, they are uplifting, and they are true.
Simply put, I feel better about life after I watch these movies.
First came The Station Agent. Then The Visitor. And now Win Win. While they all offer different experiences, what they have in common is that they are all about people from different worlds who bond over their shared humanity.
I’ve watched Win Win twice now, and I appreciated it even more the second time. The characters feel like real people with real problems, and I get inspired watching them make “good” choices that are difficult and “bad” choices that they must learn from and atone for.
That said, this movie also has a wonderful sense of humor. Fans of Paul Giamatti will be very happy; this is one of my favorite performances by him. And Bobby Cannavale (who also shines in The Station Agent) makes me laugh with almost every line.
“Feel good” movies are tough to do well. It’s easy to slip into after-school-special mode. I think there’s this bias in the indie-film-watching world for movies with a down ending. As if that were more true to life.
But life is about transcendence. It’s about growth. Every cell in your body wants to survive, to grow. The blade of grass sprouts through the crack in the concrete. Movies need to reflect this and show us what it truly means to live—the pain…and the growth of transcending the pain.
If you don’t want to risk spoilers, stop reading now. Otherwise…
For example, when Kyle’s anger loses him the wrestling match and in turn loses him his potential shot at a college scholarship, we’re aware that the stakes are bigger than winning and losing. This is not The Karate Kid.
This movie deals with deeper issues of good people making selfish choices and then suffering the consequences. And then learning from their suffering.
And I think that goes to the title, Win Win. When you win, you win. But when you lose, if you learn something, then you also win.
The victories in life are typically small, incremental. Michael Arndt, the writer of Little Miss Sunshine, says that it’s enough to see a character in a movie turn five degrees and take one step forward, as long as that growth is earned. And in the final scene with Mike at the bar, working his second job, when he says he’s doing “pretty good” after all that we’ve seen him go through, we understand just how big a win that is for him.