March 23, 2011

Win Win‘s dense, realistic plotting is impressive, at least by indie films”€™ strangely low standards. McCarthy’s reasonable assumption is that the screenwriter’s time is a low-budget film’s cheapest element, so why not wait until you have a full story before assembling cast and crew?

A couple of loose ends in the plot could have used Charlotte Brontë as a script doctor. Win Win lacks the big laughs of Alexander Payne’s Sideways. While it’s almost comparable to David O. Russell’s Oscar-winning The Fighter in screenplay and acting, it looks like a 1980s TV movie.

Win Win affords Giamatti the kind of flustered everyman role that has made him an unlikely star. But what’s most interesting about Giamatti is how much high-class breeding it apparently takes these days to portray run-of-the-mill schlubs.

I can”€™t help comparing the 43-year-old Giamatti with another pudgy Italian-American actor from Connecticut who specialized in playing Average Joes, Ernest Borgnine (now 94). Borgnine and Giamatti epitomize the evolution of social class.

It’s not only that Borgnine played blue-collar workers while Giamatti portrays white-collar men. The difference in the actors”€™ backgrounds says a lot about diminishing social mobility, both in Hollywood and in America.

Borgnine’s career path was not uncommon for movie actors of his generation. He enlisted in the Navy in 1935 and was demobilized in 1945. Finding factory jobs a bore, he gave acting a try, eventually winning the Oscar for Marty in 1955. Even after becoming a star, his tastes remained plebian. Growing up, I used to see Borgnine picking up a bucket of drumsticks at the fried-chicken stand my parents frequented or teeing off at the mundane municipal golf course where I played.

In contrast, Giamatti grew up a princeling of the new American class structure. His father, Renaissance poetry scholar A. Bartlett Giamatti, became president of Yale when Paul was eleven, then was appointed Baseball Commissioner. Paul became member of Yale’s most elite secret society, Skull & Bones, just like all those Bushes and Buckleys”€”but definitely not the Borgnines.


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