February 7, 2012

Justify My Netflix: Win Win

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)

Win Win

Today's movie: Win Win, 2011 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix | Wikipedia)

Why I added it to my queue: Because this is one of many movies coming out on DVD right now these days to have made a lot of critics' best-of lists last year, which is why I'll be taking a look at as many of these movies as I can here during the current awards season. (Coming up next, for example, the indie hit Another Earth, then Terence Malick's Oscar frontrunner The Tree of Life, and then the highly anticipated Drive.)

The reality: Raves Jason Pettus -- "The feel-good tearjerker of the year!" Because man, despite the studio's misguided efforts to promote this as a quirky indie comedy along the lines of Wes Anderson (I mean, c'mon, just look at that poster), this is actually more like a 21st-century Say Anything, in that it's an entire cast of surprisingly likable people whose problems stem from them sincerely all liking each other too much, the conflict coming not from the usual head-on collisions of most three-act stories but rather from the external forces that threaten this happiness. Set in a genteel small town where nearly everyone is experiencing hardship from the Great Recession, the story basically revolves around a lawyer and happy family man (Paul Giamatti) who takes on legal guardianship of one of his elderly clients literally for the extra thousand bucks a month in government money it brings in; this then forces him to deal with the man's teenage grandson when he shows up out of the blue one day, who has just run away from home because of his mom being in drug rehab and him literally having no way to take care of himself. The kind-hearted family takes him in out of a sense of duty, of course; but what surprises everyone (and what the movie's title is mainly referring to) is that the seemingly troubled kid turns out to be a boon to everyone's life simply from being around, a sensitive and funny born leader of his peers who turns out to be so great at the wrestling that Giamatti's character coaches, it quickly becomes clear that he has a good chance of making the state finals and possibly securing a college scholarship, all of which is constantly threatened by the question of when his mother will be getting out of rehab and demanding him back. This then lets director Thomas McCarthy (of the revered cult hit The Station Agent) cleverly examine the ethical question of nature versus nurture, which is yet another bigger theme running through the stories of all the characters; how all these skills this kid turns out to have laid dormant back when he was in an environment that didn't specifically encourage them, or even worse were sometimes cancelled out by acting-out behavior, the cause as well of a heartbreaking scene near the end of the movie that keeps this melodrama just dark enough to be palatable to the NPR crowd. A sentimental yet very smart movie that is surprisingly mainstream and even conservative in its attitude and message, it'll have you rooting by the end not for a specific character but for humanity itself, and it's no surprise that it quietly made so many critics' top-ten lists at the end of last year. It comes strongly recommended.

Worth your time? Absolutely

Filed by Jason Pettus at 3:25 PM, February 7, 2012. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |