A line in Steve Pond‘s 4.1 Wrap interview with Win Win producer Michael London made me wince a little. The topic is Win Win‘s modest expansion this weekend to 149 theatres, and then 200 next weekend. Pond says London “always figured” that Tom McCarthy‘s small-town dramedy, which is easily the best film out there right now, “would be a tough sell to mainstream audiences…with the film shifting tone from drama to comedy” and back again.
Win Win costars Paul Giamatti (l.) and Amy Ryan (far r.).
That’s not entirely true. Win Win is mostly about sly humor, wise observations, community values and comme ci comme ca we’re-doing-okay moods. “One of the things that really helps is that it plays as a comedy,” London says. “If a movie makes you laugh, you don’t care if it’s an indie movie or a studio movie — you just laugh, and some of those rules go out the window.”
Nonetheless there’s clearly a suspicion among hinterland moviegoers about any film that doesn’t deliver in a strong one-note fashion — i.e., comedy-comedy or drama-drama. HE to Joe and Jane: Movies that insist on a tonally uniform approach are frequently unsatisfying or problematic because they feel as if they’re painting their material (story, theme, emotional undercurrents) with one overall color, and that is not life-like — not the way God’s good humor tends to occur or unfold. Mixtures of drama and comedy are the day-to-day norm, not the exception.
One other thing: Win Win does, in a sense, have one overall color, and that is the color of perceptive intelligence provided by director-writer Tom McCarthy. The film has wit, warmth, peculiarity, simplicity, honesty — it’s a “movie” that entertains and engages, and but you never feel you’re missing out on something true or necessary in a story or character sense, or that some kind of comedic or dramatic agenda is being force-fed. Win Win is mostly populated by likable but sharp small-town characters, and it just kinda happens in its own way.
McCarthy, Pond reports, has been touring with the film across the country (18 cities and counting) “and reporting back that the movie connected in a way that his previous films (both critical favorites) had not. ‘I don’t know if it’s the wrestling or the fact that it’s the only movie out there to deal with how hard it is to make ends meet these days,” London says, “but audiences are responding.”