Netflix UK film review: Win It All
Ivan Radford | On 10, Jun 2017
Director: Joe Swanberg
Cast: Jake Johnson, Joe Lo Truglio, Aislinn Derbez
Watch Win It All online in the UK: Netflix UK
Joe Swanberg is a master of human interaction. Ever since his work in the early days of mumblecore, his knack for observing the way that people connect with, relate to and influence each other has only become more and more refined. It reached its peak, perhaps, with his Netflix series Easy, an anthology of day-to-day life detailed in the interactions of different couples across Chicago. It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that the filmmaker known for his free-wheeling, unconventional storytelling has reunited with the streaming service for his new film, Win It All. For both of them, it’s a safe bet.
The film follows Eddie (Jake Johnson), a gambler who has done nothing with his life except lose. So when an old friend turns up on his doorstep with a duffel bag full of cash, and asks him to look after it while he does a stint behind bars, you know that money’s going bye-bye. Poker tables. Horses. Just good old-fashioned drinking. Anything Eddie can blow it on is on the cards. Equally, you know that his friend will come back and suddenly require all the missing dough. And hell, you probably even know that Eddie will fall head over heels for a nice woman he meets, giving him a double chance at redemption.
Narrative surprises, though, aren’t really the stakes at play here: this is less about the winnings and more about the hands we’re dealt along the way. The balance of Eddie’s debt flashes up on screen periodically, reminding us of where he’s at in his quest to meet his repayment deadline, but Win It All is low on suspense and high on sincerity: the film’s charm lies in simply watching this bumbling loser attempt to connect with those around him.
A montage introducing Eddie and his drinking buddies as they splash his new-found cash on round after round rings immediately true, even though it only lasts a matter of minutes. His burgeoning attraction to the nurse he meets that evening (Aislinn Derbez – who also appeared in Easy) is wonderfully sweet, thanks to the duo’s understated chemistry. His awkward relationship with his brother (a straight-laced Joe Lo Truglio), though, may be the heart of the tale, as he gives Eddie a job with his gardening company, simultaneously trying to help his sibling and reminding him of his shortcomings (one neat scene sees Eddie accurately predict everything that his brother is about to say). All the while, Swanberg intercuts events with an amusing Keegan-Michael Key as Eddie’s Gamblers Anonymous sponsor, Gene.
However, there’s no doubt whose show it is. From New Girl to Jurassic World, Johnson has repeatedly impressed as comic relief, immature man-child and love interest, often all at the same time. His cheeky charisma is once again a neat fit for Swanberg’s style, infusing his idiot with hugely likeable heart, even as he screws things up. Swanberg, meanwhile, knows just where to put his camera, keeping things intimate but unobtrusive, while his script is his most accessible yet. That’s partly because it skews towards convention, which makes things feel more structured than usual. But the story still manages to duck the more obvious confrontations you might anticipate in the film’s second half for something more low-key, if not perfect. The result is an engaging character study that manages to portray addiction without a sense of righteous morals and with sympathy, sadness and wry humour. It is Swanberg at his best? No, but it’s an ideal showcase for Jake Johnson – it comes as no surprise that he co-wrote the screenplay with Swanberg – and that’s more than enough to make this worth watching for fans of either.
Win It All is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.