Win Win (R) (106 min.) — With his third film writer-director Tom McCarthy finally disappoints, after the superbly low-key charms of The Station Agent and The Visitor. Those were stories making us reconsider familiar characters — a dwarf, a widower, illegal immigrants — and leave with indelible new impressions. Win Win is populated by typical misfits, well-acted but unmemorable except for one.
The shock is that it isn't Paul Giamatti this time, playing Mike Flaherty, a struggling lawyer also volunteering as the high school's wrestling coach. At least he wins a case once in a while. The team hasn't won yet, and from the looks of the scrawny roster it won't. Nobody plays sore losers for empathy like Giamatti, but Mike isn't a challenge to like, as his better roles are.
No, the standout in Win Win is Alex Shaffer, a former New Jersey state champion cast as Kyle, the wrestling team's savior, and therefore Mike's. Shaffer does almost nothing — his face as monotone as his line readings — yet makes the sullen teenager cliche interesting again.
Kyle is the grandson of a client (Burt Young) slipping into dementia that Mike is unethically milking for money. His negligent mother (Melanie Lynskey) is a drug addict so Kyle headed for Grandpa's house. But he's in a nursing home, so Mike and his wife, Jackie (Amy Ryan), give the kid a place to stay. When Mike discovers Kyle's wrestling skill, his troubles are over. He thinks.
McCarthy works with more conventional material here than usual, solidly written and acted as one expects but lacking the emotional surprises of his earlier films. He gets nice comic relief from Bobby Cannavale and Jeffrey Tambor as Mike's polar assistant coaches, and the wrestling scenes greatly benefit from Shaffer's expertise. Crises and resolutions occur on cue. Win Win goes down in the books as a draw. B-
Steve Persall, Times film critic