‘Win It All’ Review: High Stakes Hilarity From Joe Swanberg and Jake Johnson
Joe Swanberg’s filmography is a fascinating evolutionary timeline; with each new film, the former mumblecore pioneer (and occasional agitator) has showcased increasing maturity. Win It All is his most grown-up film to date — despite the fact that it centers on the all-too-familiar man-child archetype. For his latest effort, Swanberg reunites with Digging for Fire star and co-writer Jake Johnson, who pulls double duty once again, this time with much more consistent results.
Johnson cuts a familiar figure as Eddie Garrett, an aimless gambling addict with no apparent passions or aspirations beyond getting wasted and losing what little money he has. When a local heavy on his way to serve a brief prison stint stupidly leaves a bag full of cash with Eddie for safekeeping, it’s not long before he abandons his sober pledge and — contrary to the title — loses it all, and then some. Complicating matters further is Eddie’s blossoming relationship with Eva (Aislinn Derbez), a charismatic single mother who is (understandably) cautious about commitment.
Swanberg and Johnson smartly weigh Eddie’s financial stakes against those in his personal life; the dots connecting the two aren’t subtle, but they don’t necessarily need to be. The difficulty and outright frustration in navigating that fragile balance between personal and monetary success is effectively relatable, plain and simple. To that effect, Win It All is appropriately unfussy, letting the characters and performances speak for themselves. Johnson takes a played-out character type and transforms him into someone who is actually endearing and likable.
While Johnson may be the star of the show, Derbez steals their shared scenes with her magnetic personality and effortless charm. (As the daughter of Mexican superstar Eugenio Derbez, it’s not surprising.) Although Win It All mostly sets itself apart from its coming-of-age predecessors with solid performances, Eva’s character is still woefully underwritten, and it’s a testament to Derbez that she’s engaging at all. The supporting players are also great: Joe Lo Truglio plays Eddie’s older, more responsible brother, and, in typical Lo Truglio fashion, spins the simplest reactions into comedy gold. Keegan-Michael Key plays Eddie’s best friend and sponsor, his (sadly few) scenes strategically placed for maximum comedic impact.
Win It All is a largely enjoyable exercise in the concept of acting as reacting, as most of the film’s plot (and humor) is driven by the ways people respond to Eddie and his predicament. Johnson in particular has a hysterical scene in which he has a comically prolonged reaction to discovering the cash that will ultimately lead him down the spiral; it’s perfect in its simplicity, which isn’t entirely surprising coming from Swanberg, a filmmaker known for uncomplicated stories.
Though Swanberg’s recent, successful indies still tend to center on grown-ups who continue making childish mistakes, his maturity has only grown with the size of his filmography. Ditto for his son, Jude Swanberg, the ridiculously adorable breakout star of Happy Christmas, who continues to hijack his dad’s movies.
Win It All is one of three Netflix titles premiering at SXSW (and debuting on the service shortly after), and seems to indicate — along with the recent I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore — an interesting shift toward emerging indie filmmakers. Hopefully it’s a sign of better things to come from Netflix, which has been relatively liberal with their finances, often placing quantity before quality. Win It All was definitely worth the gamble.