I have a confession to make. I wish I had the capacity to write a story as compelling and heartfelt, and with as much natural humor, as the one I had the good fortune to see at the movies this week.
In a time where we mostly hear about movie blockbusters touting dazzle, awe, and bling, subtle would best describe Win Win.
It’s a solid story based on the premise that good people sometimes make mistakes. That’s something we can all relate to. What touched my heart the most was the thread of common decency woven throughout this movie. Not very sexy or exciting stuff, you may think, but I was drawn into this story from its sleepy beginning to the quietly triumphant end.
So what’s it about? A small town New Jersey lawyer and family man makes a bad choice. Pressed for cash he takes on guardianship of an older gentleman in the early stages of dementia in exchange for a monthly fee of $1500.00 cash. As is always the case when we make poor choices, things get complicated. Sure that money takes a lot of pressure off the father of two young children with his stay at home wife, but instead of honoring the elderly man’s wishes to remain in his home, Mike makes bad choice number two. He puts Grandpa in assisted living so he doesn’t have to deal with the old guy.
Complication number one – a teenager shows up at Grandpa’s house. Kyle is a runaway from Ohio sporting a black eye, bleached blond hair, a few tattoos, and smoking. Mike and Jackie can’t leave the sixteen year old kid sitting in the cold on his grandfather’s doorstep, so they take him home for the night. Or at least that’s the plan.
The beauty of this story is that Kyle, even with all the bad luck life has thrown at him – a druggie mom, no father, abused by mom’s boyfriend, stole a car, got busted, quit school, no extended family to speak of – is also, when given the chance, a decent kid. All he had was a desire to find something better when he took off to find a grandfather in Jersey he’d never met. What he finds may not be a pot of gold, but proves to be worth the risk of taking that trip.
Mike also coaches the losing high school wrestling team with a lackluster fondness from his youthful days in the sport. It turns out Kyle is a natural, a kid who almost made the state wrestling championships back in Ohio. So now Mike is not only using Grandpas money, but also leaching the talent of the runaway to pull his wrestling team out of its slump. Win win?
Meanwhile back at the homestead, Kyle, Mike, Jackie and the two little girls bond. Mike with Kyle on the wrestling mats, Jackie with Kyle at the market, over breakfast and dinner, watching TV together, and swapping tattoo tales. For the first time in his life, Kyle has a pseudo-family, and it feels good, and he’s coming out of his shell. He’s also developing a relationship with his grandfather and Kyle makes sure Grandpa gets his daily dose of Cocoa Puffs. Did I mention I loved this kid? His character reminds me that teenagers aren’t just these weird, mystifying creatures we make them out to be in most movies. Yes, they’re geeky, odd, confusing, but underneath they’re adult humans in the making and Kyle is a beautiful example of the phenomenon that good kids can come from lousy situations. As they say, character counts.
Complication number two: Momma gets out of rehab and shows up in town. By Kyle’s reaction – he nearly bashes his opponent’s head at the wrestling match – Mike and Jackie make the decision to ask to have the kid stay with them. Momma gets a lawyer and wants her share of Grandpa’s money. Mike tells her lawyer she’s been written out of the will, which is true. Her lawyer discovers that Mike is getting paid to be Grandpa’s guardian, but has put him in the assisted living home anyway. No one is squeaky clean in this story, yet you root for them anyway.
The Big Moment: With his back to the wall, Mike makes the right decision, even though it’s a stinky one. He pays off rehabbing mom by promising to give her the $1500/month payments to get her to leave. And showing a touch of wisdom, she lets Kyle stay with Mike and Jackie. Mike takes a job bartending at night to make up for the lost dough. The final scene shows a contented family: kids playing croquet in the front yard; Mom inside getting dinner ready; Dad coming home from his day job, running upstairs to change for his second job – a man proudly able to look at himself in the mirror – and we end the film moved and uplifted by a story well told. We learn we can fix our mistakes by doing what is right. No bells, no whistles, no fireworks, just down-to-earth good stuff.
I highly recommend this movie.
What New York Wants
Let me bring this all back to writing and “the market.” As in movies, the current state of affairs in publishing seems to be “the next big thing” or “more of the last good thing…but different…but not so different that they won’t recognize it as more of the last good thing.” Publishers insist readers want edgier, darker, grander and glitzier, and I am totally out of sync with that. I write close, about family and love and issues of daily life. I’m grateful to have found my niche in category romance, and look forward to adding to my audience with One for the Road my first “big” book coming in July.
Talk at ya more next week, until then make it a great one,