Cindy (Melanie Lynskey) doesn't win in Tom McCarthy's third film. She's relegated to playing the villain — the drug-addled, tight-jeans-wearing daughter who wants her father Leo's (Burt Young) money so badly that she's essentially willing to give up her teenage son, Kyle. By that time, Kyle (Alex Shaffer) has stumbled into a better situation anyway, living with his new wrestling coach, Mike (Paul Giamatti), and his wise and wonderful wife, Jackie (Amy Ryan). As Kyle burns up the mat for a previously pathetic high school team, he and everyone else do find ways to "win," however vaguely that might be defined here.
A small-town N.J. lawyer by trade, Mike appreciates Kyle's remarkable skills, as do his abruptly reinvigorated teammates. But even as he enjoys their surprising good fortune, Mike also feels vaguely guilty about his own recent bad choices (brought on by financial hardships, not bad character), which make him seem a little too much like Cindy — though he can't admit what he's done even to Jackie.
Mike's moral education is unsurprising, the sort of neat, midlife re-evaluation that came to Richard Jenkins in McCarthy's excruciating The Visitor. While this movie celebrates the baby steps Mike finds possible, it doesn't allow Cindy any subtlety. She's cruel and selfish and ugly. And Lynskey — so brilliant in Heavenly Creatures, so generous in Sweet Home Alabama and so utterly perfect in her two minutes of Inside Man — deserves better.
(Rave, Ritz Five)