On DVD: Beginners, Win Win

So in slapping together my top 10 last week I noticed I hadn’t actually written up two of the movies on the list. Not surprising given I had just watched them during the awards season/holiday rush and hadn’t had time or energy to do so.

Well, we’re in the dead zone of January now, so I might as well say a few words for the completests out there. Both films are available on DVD, I recommend them for some cold winter’s night.

The theme for this installment: Quirky Indy Dramadies That Don’t Suck

Every year a few oddball, unassuming films show up that are usually ignored by the public until they get some Oscar buzz. I don’t know that these two movies will get any Oscar buzz so I thought I’d give them some RROY REPORT buzz, which — let’s face it — is just as good.

Beginners

The word “twee” keeps coming up in reference to this film. I’m not sure what that means so hold on while I look it up.

Twee : affectedly or excessively dainty, delicate, cute, or quaint; chiefly British.

Oh, those Brits. Always with the clever words. Yeah, that’s a fair criticism of “Beginners,” but I didn’t mind its tweeishness one bit.

Ewan McGregor stars as Oliver Fields, a graphic artist whose life is pretty much at a standstill. Oliver’s father Hal (Christopher Plummer) recently died, leaving him with dad’s very twee Jack Russell terrier named Arthur (Cosmo).

Oliver has trouble with relationships, no doubt due to growing up with his parents. Dad was gone a lot of the time and when he was there he wasn’t that affectionate to son or wife Georgia (Mary Page Keller). After  Georgia dies, Hal comes out of the closet and begins a new chapter, fully embracing his new lifestyle.

The film bounces back and forth in time, focusing on Oliver’s young life with his mother, the recent past with his newly liberated father, and the present as he begins a romance with a Anna (Mélanie Laurent), a French actress. Arthur occasionally offers subtitled commentary on the proceedings.

Written and directed by Mike Mills, “Beginners” is very — what’s the word I’m looking for? Oh, yes — twee. It is indeed delicate, cute and quaint. I enjoyed Oliver’s off-the-wall commentaries, Cosmo, the relationship between Oliver and Anna, and Christopher Plummer’s much-nominated performance as Hal.

Win Win

I almost didn’t watch this but then it got an award nomination so I gave it a spin and I’m glad I did.  I’m a sucker for the works of Paul Giamatti, so I should have known I would like it.

Giamatti stars as Mike Flaherty, a down-on-his-luck attorney and high school wrestling coach. Mike figures he can pocket some much-needed money by taking over guardianship of Leo Poplar — an elderly, wealthy client (Burt Young). Leo’s only known relative is an estranged daughter who left home years ago and cannot be tracked down.

Mike puts Leo in a nursing home and pockets the leftover guardianship cash. All goes according to plan until a teenager shows up on Leo’s doorstep claiming to be his grandson. Mike takes Kyle (Alex Shaffer) home with him while he figures out what to do. When Kyle turns out to be a talented wrestler, it looks like Mike’s luck has really turned around. Until Kyle’s mother shows up.

Written and directed by Thomas McCarthy, “Win Win” is a clever, engaging comedy/drama that’s maybe a little bit twee (Once you adopt a word like “twee,” you can’t stop using it). Giamatti headlines a strong cast that includes Amy Ryan as his wife, Bobby Cannavale as his buddy and Jeffrey Tambor as his assistant coach.

“Win Win” is not great cinema but I found it enjoyable and refreshing, especially when viewed alongside so many downer films that vie for your attention during awards season. Both it and “Beginners” could probably be replaced on my list with a number of other films — “My Week With Marilyn” or “The Descendants” just to name two — but then I find lists to be pointless and worthless anyway so what does it matter?


 

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One response to “On DVD: Beginners, Win Win

  1. What does “twee” mean?
    Do you know there is a new show called “Comic Book Men” or something like that? I saw a promo last night and thought of you.

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