The Up Side of Losing

Let's Go To A Movie

People who don’t get sports sometimes don’t get that it’s not just about winning.

It’s about playing. Being in the game. Being part of a team. Kind of like being human.

While many great films have been set in and around the world of sports, it’s the rare film that uses sports to convey a broader message about what it means to be fully human.

In cautious sectors of the film industry the popular trend embraces repetition. The Hangover leads to The Hangover Two, Mission Impossible leads to Mission Impossibler , Zoolander spawns Twolander, etc.

Yet there are some films, critically lauded as they may be, which you know will never be shadowed by a sequel. The simply stunning Winter’s Bone, a gray brooding brilliant story of survival on the edge of our country’s crumbling economy, is a fantastic film, but hardy likely to start a franchise. Yet it’s the real thing – proof that America still has filmmakers able to drill deep and tap into the true grit that fuels this nation of passionate extremes.

Thomas McCarthy is one such filmmaker. He’s also a gifted actor and writer (he wrote the story for Up, and wrote and directed The Visitor, among others).  In McCarthy’s most recent film, Win Win, for which he also wrote the screenplay, he offers another finely observed portrait of a man losing his grip on his own moral compass as he tries to support his family without losing his soul.

The peerless Paul Giamatti holds it all together, even as his character falls apart.

As offerings go on the cinematic menu, Paul Giamatti is a bit like Brussels sprouts. Not  as universally popular as, say, French fries. I love Brussels sprouts. And I’ve been a Giamatti fan ever since he blew me away in the underrated Duets, in which he played a downtrodden traveling salesman whose life is unexpectedly altered by a chance karaoke experience.

In Win Win Giamatti is again cast as a kind of loser – a struggling small-time lawyer whose only emotional outlet comes from his role as a part-time coach for the local high school wrestling team. When a young kid with a troubled past and a gift for takedowns shows up in town, the plot veers into deeper waters. In other hands, this kind of material could have easily devolved into the predictable drivel of the standard Lifetime Channel tearjerker.

But with a steady hand and a clear eye director McCarthy has crafted a quiet study of the universal need for dignity. At times funny, thrilling, and ultimately moving, the film never lapses into maudlin clichés or cloying cuteness.

Some moviegoers may fail to see the appeal of a film without a single car chase, with no pyrotechnical explosions, no raunchy sex scenes and no computer-generated special effects.

But for those who enjoy a well-wrought, thoughtfully directed small independent film, Win Win is a winner.

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