When director Tom McCarthy went on a 15-city tour this spring promoting his film “Win Win,” parents at every stop asked him the same question: Why is your lovely little movie rated R? The Fox Searchlight picture, playing on nearly 400 screens this week, is a quirky comedy with a moral message quietly stashed inside its portrait of a suburban lawyer, played by Paul Giamatti, who moonlights as a high school wrestling coach and finds himself dealing with both a teen runaway and a legal shortcut gone wrong.
Critics have loved the film, giving it a 95 fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes, one of the year’s highest scores. As the Boston Globe’s Ty Burr wrote: “The movie, in the end, is all about its title — the way our culture hectors us to come out on top, the panic we feel when we can’t keep up, the ethics we bend to stay in the game.”
For parents like myself, “Win Win” is a godsend. In an era where most Hollywood films that appeal to kids are appallingly dumb or crammed with crass sexual innuendo and casual violence, despite their PG-13 ratings, word gets around fast about the rare movie that actually offers a positive moral message but will still entertain adolescents. I know that in recounting the film to his pals, my 12-year-old will focus mainly on the hapless antics of Stemler, a dorky high school wrestler who finally gets his moment of glory. But I suspect that somehow, if only subliminally, he also absorbed a reminder that when dealing with temptation, you should consider looking before you leap.