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The Fraze says Paul Giamatti’s latest is a Win Win!

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Disheartened attorney Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti), who moonlights as a high school wrestling coach, stumbles across a star athlete through some questionable business dealings while trying to support his family. Just as it looks like he will get a double payday, the boy’s mother shows up fresh from rehab and flat broke, threatening to derail everything – Fox Searchlight.

Writer and Director Thomas McCarthy’s latest film, ”Win Win”, is just about perfect. As with his previous efforts, McCarthy presents a masterful work of authenticity with Win Win. The film is heartfelt and hilarious, while never wallowing in sappy sentimentalism – filled with characters who are honest-to-goodness people, genuine and relatable.

McCarthy’s directorial debut, ”The Station Agent”, which he also wrote, won the Audience Award and the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival. His second film, ”The Visitor”, earned McCarthy the 2008 Independent Spirit Award for Best Director. Most recently, McCarthy was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Pixar’s animated film, ”Up”.

A talented ensemble comprised of Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale, Jeffrey Tambor, Burt Young and Melanie Lynskey still finds a way to make room for newcomer Alex Shaffer to shine. Shaffer plays Kyle, a high school wrestling star whose grandfather, Leo (Young), is suffering from dementia, so he goes to live with Mike (Giamatti), Leo’s attorney and legal guardian.

”Win Win” is like ”The Blindside”, without all that schmaltzy, melodramatic nonsense. The film is devoid of caricatures or cookie-cutter archetypes who serve as place holders for real people. There are no heroes or villains, and yet there are soaring triumphs that are touching and humorous. Amazingly, ”Win Win” also avoids a minefield of sports movie cliches, as the film could have easily turned into the high school wrestling equivalent of ”Friday Night Lights”, where dysfunctional youths struggle and overcome adversity on the field.

You must see this film, that’s all there is to it. Giamatti gives an award-worthy performance, as does Bobby Cannavale as an eccentric assistant coach whose unwavering enthusiasm is altogether endearing. I’m giving Win Win my first perfect score of the year – it’s just too damn good to be missed. Finally, a movie that lives up to its title.

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