Social drama and comedy partner up in Thomas McCarthy’s Win Win – a look at the way family relationships try to work together in modern society where everyone has problems to contend with whilst interacting with other people, who all have troubles of their own. The end result is kind of like watching an accident happen in slow motion – awful but compelling. This then is about the ridiculousness of normality.

Mike Flaherty is an attorney although his statement that ‘I practice the law’ probably appears to have a more literal translation than he’d really like to admit. His practice is going nowhere and he’d probably much rather be coaching the high school wrestling team, even if they haven’t had a win for ages. In order to alleviate his financial problems Mike becomes guardian for an old man who is one of his clients, appearing to be doing the right thing, but he chucks the guy into an old peoples’ home and pockets a $1500 monthly cheque. Win win – right? Wrong. It’s a poorly thought out idea, the implications of which family man Mike hasn’t really considered, especially when his client’s grandson Kyle turns up. He has run away from his useless mother and wants to live with his estranged grandfather. Kyle is an odd character but he can wrestle really well and would provide valuable assistance to Mike’s team. But will the sports and social outcomes prove to be to everyone’s advantage or will everything prove to be far more problematic for all involved?

Win Win takes an ordinary bunch of characters and puts them into as believably absurd a situation as possible. Paul Giamatti proves, once again, to be an ideal everyman victim who is convinced of his own plans even as his circumstances veer increasingly out of his minimalist control – it’s a similar role that many (but not all of us!) enjoyed in Sideways (2004) and also the little seen but very enjoyable sci-fi comedy Cold Souls (2009). Amy Ryan also gives a splendid performance as Mike’s feisty but caring wife, as ready to punch the lights out of Kyle’s negligent mother as she is to offer the troubled teen a home for a while. The film covers all sorts of issues – teen angst, family relationships, drugs, care for the elderly, dementia but does so in a way that doesn’t preach. The direction and script also go some way to portraying the absurdities in Mike and his family’s increasingly challenging life in a way that appears – initially – to be as normal as a TV soap opera but then deliberately escalates the situation for all involved, revealing its increasingly unfortunate twists and turns.

Overall an engaging comic drama that is nicely underplayed bar a few slightly heavy handed comedy moments, which recounts its story in a convincing way that show its characters’ slow descent into, well, not very much.