I just got back from Win Win at the DCA, and I have to say it wasn't the film I expected. I was expecting a quirky dysfunctional-family comedy cashing in on the trend of these movies - it was a fox searchlight production after all - but the film was far more subtle than others that adhere to the quirky-family genre conventions. Sure, it had some of that too, but not enough for me to throw it in the same boat as Little Miss Sunshine (2006) or Juno (2007). Win Win is certainly a comedy, but a comedy haunted by a somber mood as it addresses the financial crisis in the US. I particularly liked this film for the nuanced way it addresses the financial crisis in neither an uplifting or fatalistic manner. Well, I also liked that it had Paul Giamatti and Jeffrey Tambor. Also, Alex Shaffer who appears to be new to acting played his role perfectly.
In the film, Giamatti plays a small time lawyer who represents, it seems, mainly elderly clients. He isn't getting much work, which stresses him out a great deal. We see him having a panic attack that his doctor attributes to 'stress'. Giamatti explains his financial situation to a close friend, but at the same time hides it from his wife and family. It seems that Giamatti is determined to maintain his families quality of life (which appears to be fairly modest). He is constantly cutting corners: refusing to replace the boiler at his office, putting off hiring someone to cut down the rotting tree in his front yard, etc. Finally, he finds a way to make some extra cash by becoming the 'legal guardian' of one of his elderly patients that will otherwise go into state care. Of course, by becoming his legal guardian he is entitled to $1500 a month from his client's estate.
The issue at stake is that his client wants to live at home, but cannot due to the onset of dementia. If the state takes custody of the individual, he will be placed in a facility that cares for the elderly with dementia. Giamatti takes legal guardianship by arguing that he will allow his client to live at home, but immediately puts him in another facility (paid by the client's estate), because he doesn't have the time to take care of him and collects a $1500 check each month. Taking advantage of the elderly financially is a serious issue in cases where the elderly individuals no longer have the mental capacities to make the right decisions for themselves, as is the case in Win Win. Now Giamatti's character is in no way a 'bad guy', he is actually shown to be quite honorable in the beginning of the film in taking the cases of elderly clients. But the financial crisis pushes him to take this step. As he says at one point of the film: what am I supposed to do, become a bartender?
What I really liked about Win Win was the ending tone of the film. As the drama unfolds, his trick with his client's state is revealed (but I won't go into the details here... it is the real plot of the film which I haven't really talked about). Rather than cut and run, however, Giamatti admits his foul play to the interested parties and forks over his $1500 a month to his client's drug-addled daughter and decides to take care of him regardless. Without the extra income, the film ends on a sequence where he rushes home after work and puts on party attire. We then see his good friend show up at a bar, but as the camera revolves around his friend, Giamatti is revealed as the bartender. In the end, rather than exploiting his clients, Giamatti takes another job to maintain his quality of living. In this, he neither triumphs over the difficulties he endures throughout the film, but neither is the film a tragedy. Instead, the film finishes on a subtle note with Giamatti acknowledging his problems and actively working at a solution. I really enjoyed this realistic conclusion with a very down to earth example of a Deleuzian ethics: the way out not in some idealized solution, but by working through daily reality at a better future.