Wrestling with Greatness, by Daniel Bergamini
After continually reworking my review of Thomas McCarthy’s latest low-key drama, Win Win, I decided I needed to change my approach. There is not much one can write about a film this low-key and unambitious. That is not to say the film is bad. In fact, it is great. Funny, touching and at times very truthful. With all of its positives, from the great cast, which includes Amy Ryan, Paul Giamatti and newcomer Alex Shaffer, to the direction and writing, this film is a near perfect low-key drama.
McCarthy’s approach is not one of pushing the boundaries. His work has consistently been focused on capturing real people in interesting situations. This is why he has given great leading roles to character actors too often dismissed. And while I respect this film immensely, one seemingly minor aspect has soured my opinion so greatly I am not sure I can forgive it or him.
This one aspect sticks out like a sore thumb, and that is the product placement. It may seem strange to be using Win Win as a discussion for product placement in film while Morgan Spurlock’s latest doc, Pom Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is currently in theatres, yet Win Win is a real example of its effects on film.
This film is not particularly filled with product placement, in fact, it has limited advertising compared to most big budget films. The issue here is the fact it is not a big-budget film but rather a low budget drama that has its strengths firmly rooted in its own subtlety. In big budget films, we expect blatant product placement, and we have learned to largely ignore it. While this is unfortunate, most big-budget films can get away with this as they are already loud, explosion-filled films. Product placement has the effect of removing you from the film as they are usually shot as advertisements. At its best, product placement can add to the realism of a world, and it is up to the filmmaker to be able to implement it properly. Not that I believe there should ever be product placement, I just realize that sometimes it is forced upon the filmmaker.
McCarthy made a huge mistake in his inclusion of product placement, which at two points in the film come close to ruining the great realism he had created. It is the advertising of Nintendo’s Wii that are so blatantly obvious that you have to wonder if he even attempted to hide it. At one point Giamatti’s character asks what the Wii is and only a second later switches the point of conversation as if he had never asked. I tried my hardest to ignore this because I realize coming up with funding is increasingly difficult for filmmakers like McCarthy. But it was with another piece of obvious product placement that I was no longer able to turn a blind eye. As I wondered why such a subtle filmmaker was being so obvious with where the funding came from, I realized something. McCarthy seemed to be more interested in getting it over with than he did with hiding it.
It is understandable in some ways. A filmmaker who has spent his short but impressive directorial career making subtle character studies would not want to spoil his films with advertisements. I do not know if he needed the product placement to complete the film. However it is clear that McCarthy was not interested in hiding it and simply wanted to get it over with. Win Win is a very good film, one which has some great humor, writing and real human drama. It is just unfortunate that the film’s subtle approach is nearly ruined by the painfully obvious product placement.