Giamatti as a loser lawyer is a win-win in summer hit

It may not be a blockbuster mega-movie, but it sure is a win-win.

Director Tom McCarthy takes audiences straight into the heart of a suburban New Jersey home dealing with the recession and all of life’s pitfalls in this year’s “Win Win.”

Since opening in select theaters March 18, it has been lauded by critics on websites such as Rotten Tomatoes as “one of the best movies of the year,” receiving a 95 percent approval rating from more than 100 reviews.

This real-life, quirky comedy centers on the life of small-town lawyer Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti), who moonlights as the local high school’s wrestling coach.

His private law practice is struggling, he can’t pay his family’s health insurance bill and the wrestling team sucks. By all accounts, Flaherty’s life is a lose lose.

Giamatti effortlessly portrays a torn man who must support his family and keep up appearances, but as pride clouds his vision, he finds doing the right thing isn’t so simple.

Giamatti’s acting prowess has served him in films such as the drama “Saving Private Ryan” (1998), the offbeat comedy “Sideways” (2004) and the upcoming HBO film “Too Big to Fail” (2011).

The actor is a chameleon, making viewers root for him one second and switch teams the next.

When 16-year-old Kyle (Alex Shaffer), a runaway and grandson of one of Flaherty’s clients, enters the plot, the conflicted lawyer takes the quiet, troubled youth into his home.

Shaffer is a newcomer to the screen, delivering his lines with such clarity that his comfort in front of the camera is apparent.

Kyle turns out to be a champion wrestler and gives the losers on Flaherty’s team a much-needed slap in the face. Through this unlikely friendship, Flaherty and Kyle find that having control is all about choice.

The movie is supported by Flaherty’s sharp-eyed wife Jackie, played by Amy Ryan, who’s best known as Holly, the silly love-interest of Michael Scott on NBC’s “The Office.” Ryan is seen in a dramatic role, far from the wily antics of the Scranton branch, but delivers phenomenally.

The actress plays the Jersey-girl-turned-protective-matriarch skillfully and gives her character a richness not usually seen on the big screen.

Comedic relief comes in the form of Bobby Cannavale, who plays Flaherty’s recently divorced and candid best friend Terry Delfino.

Cannavale’s one-liners and guido-esque charm tear at the seams of viewers’ bellies as he lies on top of Giamatti during a panic attack, shouts expletives at kids and stalks his ex-wife’s house.

Other casting gems include Burt Young, known most for his role in the “Rocky” series, and Jeffrey Tambor, who has been in everything from “Three’s Company” to “The Hangover.”

Rated R for some sparsely used bad language, the film relies heavily on plot and refreshingly employs no sexual innuendos.

In his inevitable fall, Flaherty is confronted by his ethical breach and must humble himself to make amends. The story is so authentic, so heartwarming and character driven, it is what moviemakers should strive to emulate.

While the film has grossed only $7.8 million, likely because it is available in only 388 theaters nationwide, it is truly one that is worth every cent of that over-priced ticket.

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