“Win Win” Premiere's at Sundance, Finds Giamatti on New Ground

In deference to the light dusting of snow on the ground, Saturday starts with a short bus ride back to Eccles, where yet another packed house awaits the premiere of Paul Giamatti’s upcoming film, “Win Win.”

“Win Win” stars Giamatti as a down on his luck lawyer who moonlights as a high school wrestling coach. In a moment of desperation, he takes advantage of an elderly client, a move than comes back to bite him in the ass when the man’s grandson, a talented wrestler, appears out of the blue.

The character is a departure for Giamatti, as this time he plays a happy, well-adjusted suburban family man. It was almost a deal breaker, according to the actor’s old friend, and “Win Win” writer director Tom McCarthy, who addressed the crowd after its world premiere.

“I've known Paul for almost 20 years now. We go way back, we met at the Yale drama school together and we've been trying to find something for yeast and this just felt like it… I called Paul, he was finishing a movie in London or something and he was flying back. I said, ‘I think I have something,’ and I sent it too him and he read it on the plane, and I went over to house for thanksgiving. And I said, ‘So, what do you think?’ And he said, ‘Wow, I really like the script, it's great.’

“Then I said, ‘I think there's one major obstacle/challenge for you…’ And he goes, ‘Yeah, the dude's happy.’ I said, ‘I know, but you can do it. You can do it - you can show the world.’ And he really did, he found a guy who was content in his life, and not condescend to these suburban characters.”

The film is a rare beast, a feel-good movie that doesn’t insult your intelligence. In Amy Ryan plays his wife, Bobby Cannavale is hilarious as his unhinged best friend, and newcomer Alex Shaffer, who gives a fantastic acting debut as wresting prodigy Kyle Timmons.

McCarthy, a character actor with three dozen films on his resume, who is quietly putting together an impressive body of work on the other side of the camera. He first came to Sundance in 2003 with “The Station Agent,” winning the Audience Award, Special Jury Prize and the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award for his story about a dwarf struggling with a break-up who retreats to an abandoned train depot to lick his wounds, only to develop friendships with two unlikely locals. He returned in 2007 with “The Visitor,” a film about a college professor who finds a couple of strangers in his apartment, which earned Richard Jenkins an Oscar nomination and his career a serious shot in the arm. Now he’s back with a film he co-wrote with his childhood friend, Joe Bitoni.

“Joe and I used to be championship wrestlers ourselves. For real--no. we were actually on the same team in high school and this is Joe’s first screenplay by the way. I just had this idea one day, I hadn't really seen anything about high school wrestling, a much-undervalued sport in this country. So I called Joe, and I said, since we've known each other since we were about 10, I sad, "Hey, you wanna develop this idea with me?" And he said, "Totally! I'm in. What do we do?"

“We just start talking a lot and see if there's a story that comes out of it. And that's really where it started, laughing about our old wrestling stories. And Joe is an elder law attorney who lives in the town where we grew up together as kids… so we were just draw on those experiences. I guess a very personal story in that way and a lot of fun to develop.”

And then it’s back outside to go back inside the huge tent where they pen the ticket holder in a line with at least 10 switchbacks, to watch still another movie.

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