One of my favourite films of the '00s is the American indie gem, The Station Agent, actor-cum-writer-director Tom McCarthy's 2003 directorial debut about a little person, trains and the odd bonds of friendship. McCarthy's second feature, 2008's The Visitor, for which Richard Jenkins received a Best Actor Oscar nom, was similarly small but invested with heart.
Those elements, combined with the presence of character actor-cum-leading man, Paul Giamatti, who it goes without saying is perfect as Mike Flaherty, the put upon lawyer and high school wrestling coach, had Win Win on my 'must-see' list even before the 2011 Sydney Film Festival line-up was announced.
If you hadn't guessed from the title, then you'll soon gather from the tone of McCarthy's dram-edy (though it's more comedy than drama until the third act), it's all's well that ends well. That's not to say that Win Win is formulaic or predictable, though it is the most mainstream of McCarthy's films to date.
Mike is a nice family guy but he's also financially desperate, so when an opportunity to stay afloat presents itself he seizes it. He becomes the court-appointed guardian of his elderly and senile client, Leo (Rocky's Burt Young), so he can collect the monthly fee of $1500; swiftly moving Leo from his home and into assisted care.
Whatever the fuck it takes, as Mike's new wrestling protege, and Leo's grandson, Kyle (newcomer Alex Shaffer), would say. Kyle shows up when his mother goes into rehab so Mike, and his tough veneered but soft hearted wife, Jackie (Amy Ryan), take the teenager in.
With the bills being paid, Leo relatively happy in care, and the wrestling team finally enjoying success thanks to Kyle, Mike could be forgiven for thinking he is indeed on a winner. But then Kyle's mother (Melanie Lynskey) arrives in town, fresh from rehab and smelling a rat, and things quickly become (more) complicated. Like Charlie Sheen, Mike soon learns it's a fine line between winning and losing; not waving but drowning.
Win Win is pretty much everything I expected it to be, and a fun and entertaining way to end a festival which began in much the same way for me, 11 days earlier, with Troll Hunter. While sadly lacking in a 'wow' moment for me - I saw Terrence Malick's Tree of Life prior to the Festival, and I missed the ultimate SFF prize winner, Iranian film A Separation - I've thoroughly enjoyed my 2011 Sydney Film Festival experience.
It's been great catching up with fellow film and non-film tweeps alike, discussing films, sharing experiences and passing on tips of what to see and what to avoid (though there weren't so many of the latter).
I'd also like to thank both the SFF volunteer crew, and especially those who worked in the Media Office and were so accommodating of us media folk who flocked there every morning and midday-ish to get our hands on some free tix: your patience and efforts are very much appreciated.
And a big 'thank you' to whomever it was who approved The LennoX Files for media accreditation, for without media access I would not have been able to attend the 2011 Sydney Film Festival. This humble blogger, and his readers, thank you very much indeed.
Note: Win Win will be released in Australian cinemas August 18 by 20th Century Fox.