Known for his excellent, quiet character studies ('The Station Agent' and 'The Visitor'), writer-director Tom McCarthy attempts a more mainstream film with 'Win Win' through Fox Searchlight, who've had tons of critical success premiering their films at Sundance over the years ('Cyrus' and '500 Days of Summer' are two of the more recent ones). Ultimately it works for McCarthy, since 'Win Win' does a fine job of blending the filmmaker's low-key, slow-burn approach with the sort of pop-centric awkwardness we've come to expect from Fox Searchlight movies. The results may not please everyone -- especially those expecting to watch a flat-out 'Bad News Bears'-type romp, but in the end it delivers just the right blend of comedy and drama to leave you feeling satisfied, if not just a wee bit more interested in high school wrestling.
At this point it should be a rule that no Sundance Festival can go by without Paul Giamatti starring in at least one film. He's one of the easiest and most enjoyable actors to watch these days, and he's a perfect match for Tom McCarthy's fascination with somewhat down-on-their-luck male protagonists desperately trying to figure it all out. In 'Win Win,' Giamatti plays Mike, a suburban New Jersey father who's having a rough go at it with his small-town law practice, and seems to be on the verge of a financial breakdown. Part of his anxiety comes from the fact that his wife (Amy Ryan) has no idea they're having money issues, and like so many Americans these days, Mike -- who also moonlights as a high school wrestling coach for a team that's beyond awful -- is just trying to get through the day by putting out fires with the water he has instead of buying a new fire extinguisher.