Mike (Giamatti) is a New Jersey lawyer struggling to make ends meet when he discovers he can earn a bit extra as the guardian of senile client Leo (Young).
But his wife Jackie (Ryan) only finds out when Leo's 16-year-old grandson Kyle (Shaffer) turns up needing a place to stay while his mother (Lynskey) goes through rehab. To keep him busy, Mike invites Kyle along to the wrestling practice he coaches with his friends (Tambor and Cannavale). Surprise: Kyle's a gifted wrestler who may help the team win for a change.
The film vividly captures the mood of today's economy, as people struggle to survive in a system that seems designed to guarantee failure for anyone who isn't a high-flying banker. Mike's ambition is merely to make enough to support his family, but he can no longer do that as an honest, small-town lawyer. His mistake to try to secretly make cash on the side is what triggers the film's string of events. This is slightly over-plotted, but it plays out in a way that's realistic and involving.
And the actors are terrific in roles that are sharply well-written, with astute dialog and moments that are both humorous and surprisingly dark. Giamatti anchors all of this with a beautifully understated performance, while Ryan's sardonic earthiness is the perfect balance to his more wide-eyed panic. Shaffer is excellent as the surly, eerily believable teen quietly trying to do his best in a complicated situation. And Cannavale provides a cool spark of comic relief as well as an ironic counterpoint to the central plot.
In the end, the story is weakened by one event that rings false and one character (Lynskey's) that never rises above a stereotype. But the overall film is a hilarious bundle of lively interaction, cleverly capturing the mixture of joy and envy when we meet someone who's astoundingly good at something, while we feel like all we can do is just try and get through another day.
Run time: 106 mins
In Theaters: Friday 20th May 2011
Box Office USA: $10.2M
Box Office Worldwide: $10.7M
Distributed by: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Production compaines: Fox Searchlight Pictures, Next Wednesday Productions, Groundswell Productions
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Fresh: 156 Rotten: 10
IMDB: 7.2 / 10
Director: Tom McCarthy
Screenwriter: Tom McCarthy
Starring: Paul Giamatti as Mike Flaherty, Alex Shaffer as Kyle, Amy Ryan as Jackie Flaherty, Melanie Lynskey as Cindy Timmons, Bobby Cannavale as Terry Delfino, Jeffrey Tambor as Vigman, Burt Young as Leo Poplar, Margo Martindale as Eleanor