The latest entry into the ever-popular wrestler-related storylines (cross-reference below) has a decidedly made-for-TV feel that gets in the way of the considerable talents assembled.
Writer-director Tom McCarthy (aided in the story department by Joe Tiboni) has crafted a narrative that seems to be a patchwork of dozens of other similar situations stitched together with the hopeful thread that real-life wrestler Alex Shaffer, in the pivotal role of Kyle Timmins, will carry the film all the way to the state finals. Alas, nothing fresh beyond the few matches which feature inventively modest camera work (Oliver Bokelberg) and always-predictable results will really pique anyone’s interest.
Playing down-on-his luck lawyer, down-on-his-wins coach Mike Flaherty, Paul Giamatti brings a flavour of Corner Gas’ Brent Butt to the role but can’t escape his character’s uneven lack of moral fibre. Best bud Terry Delfino (Bobby Cannavale) keeps the inner child of both “men” kindled whether sexting his ex-wife (replete with a new paramour who sports a tool belt …) or working his way onto the bench which, literally, comes between Flaherty and his long-standing/suffering assistant coach, Stephen Vigman (Jeffrey Tambor).
Trying to keep the suddenly expanded household going (Timmins shows up looking for his dementia-laden grandpa even as his mom battles her demon drug habit far, far away), Amy Ryan does her level best as Jackie Flaherty but isn’t provided enough depth as the circumstances swirl around her to draw any real viewer attachment. The tattoo sharing personal moment (hers a tribute to Jon Bon Jovi, no less) with Timmins is one of the few exchanges that works: more, please! Curiously, the only fully-formed, consistent player of the lot is Grandpa Leo (readily given stoic life by Burt Young) whose infirmity seems but a head cold compared with his doting/negligent family or opportunistic “friends” as the case may be. Suddenly rehabilitated (smelling some serious cash from an ailing loved-one), Timmins’ mom comes back into everyone’s life looking fresh as a daisy even as she wangles for the cash flow that might well needle her back into the depths of despair. Not surprisingly, Melanie Lynskey has some difficulty deciding just which character to portray.
McCarthy tries to make it all work through the notion that no matter what stage you are in life or what transgression you’ve made, a second chance is always warranted. Yet while it seems fairly plausible with a troubled teen who would rather win his weight class than become an “A” student, having a defender of truth so easily slip into, effectively, fleecing a client does not work when these scales of justice are balanced. Rather, “Whatever the fuck it takes!” suits the more short-sighted nature of both.
By journey’s end, nearly everyone seems down for the count. JWR