Tom McCarthy‘s Win Win (Fox Searchlight, 3.18), which screened last night at the Eccles, isn’t quite as good as Little Miss Sunshine — it’s an 8.5 to Sunshine‘s 9 — but it’s a wise, perceptive and affecting little family-relations flick that works just fine. If only more films labelled “family-friendly” were as good as this. McCarthy is always grade-A, and this is more from the same well. Win Win is warm but not sappy, smartly written, very well acted and agreeable all the way.

Win Win star Paul Giamatti, director-screenwriter-producer Tom McCarthy at last night’s after-party at Park City’s High West Distillery.

But it needs to be clarified that it’s not a “wrestling movie,” as Indiewire‘s Anne Thompson has tweeted, as much as a film about parenting, nurturing, values and community.

Paul Giamatti is a financially struggling small-town attorney and family man with a wife (played by the always first-rate Amy Ryan) and two daughters. He coaches the high-school’s wrestling team on the side. During a court hearing about the welfare of an aging, dementia-aflicted client (Burt Young), Giamatti offers to be Young’s arm’s-length caretaker because of an extra $1500 monthly that comes with the job. This is presented as an ethical failing of some kind, but financial motives or fallbacks are always a factor in taking care of an elderly person.

And then Young’s grandson (Alex Shaffer, a high-school wrestling star found in a talent search) shows up on the doorstep of Young’s home. The kid has run away from his Ohio home, but more particularly from his youngish drug-addict mom (Melanie Lynskey) and her atrocious parenting.

Giamatti and Ryan take Shaffer in for a brief period until he’s able to catch a bus home, but everything changes when Giamatti discovers that Shaffer is a world-class wrestler. He winds up enrolling in the local high school and joining the team, of course, and everything’s looking great until the wicked witch — i.e., Lynskey — shows up looking to take Shaffer back home and trying to snag the $1500 gig in taking care of Young, her dad.

Alex Shaffer, Paul Giamatti,

GIamatti delivers another one of his dependably solid half-Gloomy Gus/half-wise man performances. But for my money Ryan is the most enjoyably on-target. She’s so solid, so real. And Shaffer definitely holds his own.

“There’s something about him,” Giamatti told USA Today‘s Claudia Puig last night. “The movie hinges on him. He’s so likeable. If he hadn’t been likeable, the movie would never have worked. And he’s really smart, but tries to hide it.”

Costars include Jeffrey Tambor, Bobby Cannavale and Margo Martindale. McCarthy wrote the screenplay, based on the story by himself and Joe Tiboni. Michael London (Sideways) produced with McCarthy, Mary Jane Skalski and Lisa Maria Falcone.