Great movie poster.
A good, but not a great film.
You have an Oscar nominee (Amy Ryan) and Oscar winner (Paul Giamatti) as a married couple. They may argue occasionally, but they’re basically happy. They have a young child, and Giamatti’s health issues seem to be in check. Ryan doesn’t realize he’s also having trouble making money at his law practice.
When he sees a quick fix, taking of the guardianship of an old client (played wonderfully by Burt Young of Rocky fame), that only complicates things. Giamatti figures it’ll be an easy $1,500 a month to take care of the guy, but when he puts him in a home, you wonder if you’ll be able to like him. It was a lot like when he stole money from his mom in Sideways.
We still end up rooting for Giamatti, especially when Young’s grandson shows up after running away from home. He’s played by newcomer Alex Shaffer, a real life New Jersey state wrestling champ.
When we start seeing the troubled kid interact with others, we realize just how good a writer/director Tom McCarthy is. He’s given us The Station Agent, and the wonderfully underrated The Visitor from a few years ago. And what he does so well with the writing here is, characters aren’t clichéd caricatures.
Giamatti isn’t some ambulance chasing lawyer or one that’s trying to make big bucks in unethical ways. He actually seems to care about his clients.
The young, troubled teen isn’t some druggy that curses everyone out. In fact, he’s very thoughtful and refuses to take charity. He doesn’t accept money from Ryan when she tries helping him out.
And when she takes him grocery shopping, and we’re expecting him to buy all the food he eats when he trains (since he’s an exceptional wrestler and is going to join the team), tears came down my face when he put Coco Puffs into the shopping cart. You see, earlier in the film his grandfather griped about the bad food at the home he’s at. He screamed “I just want my Coco Puffs!”
The cast is rounded out by Bobby Cannavale, who is annoying (but he’s supposed to be).
Jeffrey Tambor, who probably plays a sad-sack more than Giamatti has (The Larry Sanders Show, Meet Joe Black, to name a few).
I interviewed the writer/director and wrestler Alex Shaffer about this movie a few weeks ago at the Hard Rock Café downtown.
The first thing I said to McCarthy as we were sitting down by the pool is, “I like the fact that you didn’t play crappy Bon Jovi music. We understand Ryan’s character when she shows the Bon Jovi tattoo, but we don’t need a goofy song to further drive home the point.”
He laughed and said “Did you see Vision Quest?”
Uh, yeah, I think. Was that the wrestling movie with Matthew Modine [who is from Chula Vista]?
“Yeah, that movie,” he continued.
“Well, they use that song Lunatic Fringe. It worked great during his work out scene, it’s a great song; but they played it about 18 times in the movie. When he’s walking out to get the mail, you hear it. When he’s just walking down the street, there it is. It lost the impact. I certainly didn’t want to do that.”
Since we were talking about another wrestling movie, I turned to Shaffer and said, “I’ve
seen so many movies with wrestlers and they’ve all been good. I loved The Wrestler, The Breakfast Club, World According to Garp…do you a favorite?”
“Well, The Wrestler isn’t real wrestling. Someone asked me if I had seen Garp the other day. I still haven’t seen his movie [The Visitor] yet.”
Now that you’re done with high school, will you pursue wrestling or acting?
“I love them both so much. I have been wrestling since I was little, and doing judo since I was 12. I’m going to probably look into acting.”
I looked back at McCarthy, who was texting someone. Never a good sign in an interview, and figured I’d get him back with a little praise. I told him how much I loved The Visitor, and said, “You had these edits that were very powerful. One showed Richard Jenkins asking the immigrants if they had a place to stay. They said yes, but we know they don’t. The next scene we see Jenkins back in his house, and the camera pans back to show the guy holding a CD in the room with him. There are a few similar cut away scenes like that in this that were perfect. They’re very effective. I also liked the fact that Giamatti isn’t the usual schnook he plays.
He put the phone down and said, “Part of me loved making him more normal. He had friends, a family, kids, clients, and he wasn’t just disconnected to everything. He was just being pulled in a lot of different directions.”
Some critics are saying this movie was a little like a sitcom. I didn’t get that feeling at all. I did feel it was missing something, and couldn’t put my finger on what it was. I’m certain I would’ve liked the movie more if the commercials hadn’t given away so much. I asked McCarthy about that and he said “Yeah, I know. I was bothered by that, but you have to pick your battles with the studios. Their job is getting people in the seats, and they do a good job of it.”
I’ll be anxiously looking forward to the next Tom McCarthy film.
And for anybody looking for a good movie to see this week, picking this would be a win-win.
I’m giving it a B.