Win Win

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Director: Thomas McCarthy
Release date: 20 May

Win Win is about the impact of the economic crisis on a small New Jersey town. The increasing financial pressure experienced by a widening section in US society and the inadequacy of the healthcare system are central themes. But most of all, the film depicts how people deal with not being in a winning situation, through small acts of solidarity and an underlying determination to exercise some control over their lives.

Mike, the main character, is in desperate financial circumstances. He's a middle-aged solicitor who can no longer afford to pay for his family's healthcare insurance or repair his office boiler which is about to blow up.

The possibility of becoming a legal guardian for a rich elderly client with dementia offers a way out of this, even if it means doing something underhand.

Rather than attribute individual blame, the film shows how the failings of the US legal and healthcare systems result in Leo (the elderly client) being unable to stay in his beloved home because the state of New Jersey cannot provide an adequate level of care for him.

Into this delicate balance steps Kyle, Leo's runaway grandson who is trying to escape from a chaotic home life. Kyle is a highly talented wrestler, which is good news for Mike who runs an after school wrestling club in serious need of a winner.

It's also good for Terry (Mike's high school friend), as it gives him a chance to become part of the coaching team, a welcome respite from hanging out in his flash condo or spying on his ex-wife.

The arrival of Kyle's mother, Cindy, complicates things though. She is in equally desperate straits and determined to get her son back alongside access to her father's money.

As in his earlier film The Visitor, director Tom McCarthy is particularly good at portraying relationships: both in the sense of the ongoing development of a longstanding friendship between Mike and Terry and of an outsider like Kyle becoming part of an established family.

The affection, arguments and tensions involved result in a humorous and thoughtful film with an underlying refusal to give up, as epitomised in Kyle's description of his best wrestling move: "It's like someone's trying to drown me and I just have to get up, whatever the fuck it takes". This spirit becomes the motto for the club.

Although in places the film feels a bit slow, the ending makes up for this and perhaps the "win win" of the title refers to the eventual compromise reached between Mike and Cindy.

It's worth watching for its sense of how people are responding in a collective way to the economic crisis in the US, even though here it's not in an overtly political or organised way.