'Win Win' review: A smart, sensitive drama about numerous kinds of wrestling

*** (out of four)

With his small-time New Jersey law firm’s business at a standstill, plus a wife (Amy Ryan) and two kids at home, Mike (Paul Giamatti) takes advantage of an elderly client so he can earn money as the man’s guardian. Soon Mike, who also coaches a winless high school wrestling team, is spending more time looking after the old man’s estranged grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer), who’s conveniently an excellent wrestler.

The buzz: That’s the second movie this month (after “Happythankyoumoreplease”) to show at Sundance and feature the temporary adoption of a young boy with no good place to go. Still, Giamatti and writer-director Thomas McCarthy (“The Station Agent,” “The Visitor”) provide hope that there’s genuine heart in this outsiders’ story.

The verdict: A conventional but appealing little movie, “Win Win” is enjoyably pitched on life’s fork in the road between comedy and drama, the easy way and the hard way. Mike and his recently divorced best friend, Terry (Bobby Cannavale), both stoop to low levels to combat their troubles. They can’t help admiring Kyle, who seems to keep it together and thrive in spite of all his problems. They all just want to feel both supported and in control. McCarthy leans on expected plot points and legal question marks, but he gets a great mix of hope and anguish from Giamatti. Cannavale, meanwhile, is hilarious as a man who doesn’t know what to do with his enthusiasm anymore. Get this character a spinoff.

Did you know? Jackie (Ryan) has a “JBJ” tattoo on her ankle in honor of Jon Bon Jovi. Since the movie has no sex scenes, we can only assume she has all the lyrics to “Livin’ on a Prayer” on her back.

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Fridays at 7 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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