The Dose: ‘Win It All’ is a Netflix original without losses

The Dose: ‘Win It All’ is a Netflix original without losses

Joe Swanberg isn’t known to direct “pop cinema,” or movies gaining attention outside of the indie circuit. He mostly makes “mumblecore” instead, an experimental genre where actors improvise over thin plots to simulate real situations. Now this methodology can churn out some wonderful films, such as Swanberg’s “Drinking Buddies” and Soderbergh’s “Magic Mike.” However, especially in the case of “Happy Christmas,” most mumblecore meanders, wastes talented actors and goes nowhere.

Although his modus operandi can be frustrating, Swanberg always excels in capturing great performances and raw human emotion. Because of this, I’m thrilled to call his latest work, “Win It All,” his most accessible movie to date.

It stars Jake Johnson (“New Girl”) as Eddie Garrett, a Chicagoan whose weariness comes from battling a longtime gambling addiction. Despite attempts by his Gamblers Anonymous sponsor (Keegan-Michael Key) to help him end it, Eddie still struggles to find a proper alternative – even disregarding offers from his brother’s (Joe Lo Truglio) lawn mowing business.

When Eddie’s life starts to improve upon meeting a beautiful nurse (Aislinn Derbez), an old acquaintance mysteriously arrives at his home. To make up an old favor, Eddie has to hide the man’s duffel dug until his return from a months-long prison sentence. Nonetheless, Eddie discovers bricks of money in the bag, rekindling his temptations and putting him in a dangerous dilemma after an early release is announced.

As predictable as those turn of events sound, the combination of Joe Swanberg’s knack for characterization and Jake Johnson’s limitless charm is what makes this such a terrific ride. It is everything Swanberg does well, reigned in enough by genre conventions to do away with what he does wrong.

Within the first 15 to 20 minutes, it’s easy to peg “Win It All” as a knockoff of “Rounders,” the Matt Damon classic about a law student who gambles away his poker cash. But all of the nuanced filmmaking behind “Win It All” spins those trappings in an unfamiliar way.

While most gambling movies center on the squanders of a handsome lead, this film trades that classic protagonist with Johnson. Giving a really funny performance, he nails the struggles of becoming forty in a lifestyle which constantly fails him. Oscillating between humor and pain effortlessly, he creates a three-dimensional mess you can’t help but love.

In essence, “Win It All” is a grounded look at life-crippling addiction and has a lot to say about the obstacles of adult life. Visually, it drenches Chicago in grainy, vérité cinematography to evoke a ’60s/’70s aesthetic. Unlike most modern films, Swanberg’s edits are methodically timed to linger on characters’ expressions and reactions, providing his mainstream endeavor with genuine weight. Under his keen eye, the cast hits every target they need to, making each of Eddie’s supporting players relatable and hilarious.

Does “Win It All” signal the end of the inaccessible, exploratory Joe Swanberg? Of course not, but it’s great proof that his toolbox isn’t confined to low-fi entertainment. While it probably won’t gain the popularity of “Rounders,” or become an immortal classic like “The Hustler,” it is still a heartfelt, feel-good comedy delivering on everything we love about gambling stories.

“Win It All” is currently available on Netflix.

Featured Image: Jake Johnson stars in “Win It All” as gambler Eddie Garrett. Eon Mora.

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Preston Mitchell
Preston Mitchell 111 posts

A fan of pop culture, Preston loves everything from political think pieces to action blockbusters. He is also the Opinion Editor of the NT Daily and an Integrative Studies senior at UNT.

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