Thursday, April 13, 2017

Reserved Seating: Win It All

by Rob DiCristino and Adam Riske
The review duo that lets it ride with their Netflix queue additions.

Adam: Welcome to Reserved Seating. I’m Adam Riske.

Rob: And I’m Rob DiCristino. This week, we’re looking at the new Netflix Original film from writer/director Joe Swanberg, Win It All. The film stars Jake Johnson (who also co-wrote the screenplay) as Eddie Garrett, a born-to-lose semi-professional gambler who can’t catch a break. When he’s left to supervise a duffel bag containing thousands of dollars in cash, Eddie hatches a plan to “invest” some of it in hopes of turning a profit. As you can imagine, that doesn’t work out. As he falls deeper and deeper behind, he decides to reform himself with the help of his brother (Joe Lo Truglio), his Gamblers Anonymous sponsor (Keegan-Michael Key), and the beautiful nurse who's caught his eye (Aislinn Derbez).

Adam: As a fan of writer-director-actor Joe Swanberg and actor Jake Johnson, I was very interested in checking out Win It All. I was underwhelmed by their last effort, Digging for Fire, which is not a bad movie as much as an experiment that didn’t connect with me on a character level. It felt crowded and somewhat distant (due in large part to Swanberg using widescreen photography the majority of the time). Win It All is the type of Swanberg I enjoy the most, which is a focused character piece that’s buoyed more on the writing and performances than the technical craft. I loved this movie. It is a fresh take on a well-tread subgenre but approaches it from an off-hand and blue collar perspective, unlike most gambling films which are dark and almost operatic. This one finds a lot of humor and presents Jake Johnson with a terrific character: a man that is flawed but not with an appetite for destruction like so many gamblers on film have had. What did you think, Rob, and are you a fan of Swanberg and Johnson’s previous collaborations?
Rob: I’m very hot and cold on Swanberg, though I haven’t yet seen Digging for Fire. I find that I’m such a fan of technical precision in screenwriting that I’m often put-off by a lot of comedies that rely on outlines and improvisation. Win It All only had a few moments like that, though, and none of them was distinct enough to be distracting. I liked how much the gambling takes a backseat to the gambler, like you said. This definitely isn’t the sexy, exciting, Oreo-licking drama of Rounders. Johnson is funny and sad, a very believable portrait of an addict. I liked his scenes with Joe Lo Truglio the best. There’s a nice sense of sibling...judgment, I guess? It’s a hard dynamic to define, but they definitely had it. It’s a very focused character piece carried out with a lot of humor and heart. I liked it just fine.

Adam: Just fine? No, I totally get it. It’s a small movie and I think small emotions are appropriate towards it. I said I loved it, but honestly I don’t see myself putting it in my top 10 of the year or anything. I’m curious if I’ll return to it. That’s a weird thing about these Netflix originals. They just sort of live on Netflix in this digital library. Will they be released on physical disc? I don’t think I’ve ever re-watched something on Netflix before.

Anyways, sorry for the digression. I agree with you about the brothers’ relationship. I especially liked that Joe Lo Truglio was allowed to play the together/responsible one when he’s so often relegated to a goofier character in movies and on television. Win It All resonated with me more than I thought in part because it’s one of those movies where characters say what normal people would say in every situation. It’s a movie that could have easily gone on longer based on Hollywood/contrived misunderstandings, etc., but the movie evades that nicely and feels light on its feet as a result. I really liked how excited Jake Johnson was on the night he met Aislinn Derbez where he is just going on and on what a great night it is meeting her or when his sponsor, Keegan-Michael Key, laughs at him when Johnson has one of his speeches about putting gambling behind him once and for all. It’s a movie that enjoys people hanging out with people and I liked that about it. I also was really invested in Eddie not screwing up and being able to (forgive me) win it all in his life. I kept expecting terrible things to happen to him because that’s what gambling movies have you trained to expect and this one has some surprises.

Rob: Yeah that naturalism was the key. I loved the moment when Johnson was forced to ask his brother for the loan money so much earlier than they’d planned. It’s exactly the thing his brother expected, but for a very real and justifiable reason this time. He can’t see that, though, so Johnson has to deal with that special type of frustration that comes from trying to get someone to see your point of view when they have no insight into your situation (and in fact every reason to doubt and judge you for even making the request). I don’t know. The more we’re talking about it, the fonder I am of it. I liked the use of those title cards indicating how much money he was up or down, and how they would occasionally be dropped in as jokes on jump cuts. It was a nice use of the format. And yeah, I guess I feel bad that my reaction wasn’t as strong as yours. I think I have less patience for “white dudes struggling with adulting” movies than a lot of people do, but that’s probably more to do with me projecting some kind of personal frustration than anything else.

Adam: Do you mean because you’re having trouble adulting yourself or because you’ve adulted and you’re impatient with their bullshit in the movie?
Rob: There’s no way to answer that without sounding like a douche, so I’ll be one and say it’s impatience. I work so goddamn hard all the time that I have problems relating to characters who are like “Oh man, I have to wake up today!? What? I’m out of eggs? My girlfriend is kind of mean?” Grow up, cockwomble.

Adam: Cockwomble? That must be a Philly term. We call those people “Jagoffs.” I am impatient with people talking about their problems as much as you are, but I come from it at a different angle. I think “I’ve got a lot of problems, but I’m nice enough not to bother anyone with my bullshit.” I just do the Gary Cooper thing and shut up and take a nap. When I wake up...guess what...I’m ready for the world again! Because I’m a grown up. It’s the only reason people probably can stand me because I make fun of that shit all the time. Because it’s funny. It’s nothing to mope about.

Anywho, back to the movie, I think I get a little bit extra from it because it’s a Chicago movie that doesn’t do the generic bullshit and gets real neighborhoody. Also, the race track (in the movie) is down the street from me which was kind of neat. That aside, I was annoyed Eddie was a Cubs parking guy at the beginning. There is no way any of these people are Cubs fans. They would all be White Sox fans. Also, I wish I was as cool as Jake Johnson. He’s like the apex for someone with my personality.

Rob: Look. At least you guys get movies on the regular. We’ve got Rocky. And De Palma, I guess. And Eraserhead is about the terrors of our neighborhoods. But, I digress. I actually didn’t even notice the film was set in Chicago, so I guess it was neighborhoody enough to pass muster. What else can we talk about?

Adam: Philly has The Garbage Picking Field Goal Kicking Philadelphia Phenomenon starring Tony Danza! And Shyamalan, which according to our comments on Split is still worth fighting about if you say anything negative about him.
Rob: Let me tell you something about Vince Papale. This guy has two movies based on his life, and he’s completely full of shit. He claims to have grown up on the rough streets of South Philly, but he grew up in the same suburb I did. He came to our high school career days and told us how we’re all complete failures unless we play football. Shyamalan’s fine, though. I saw him once and he didn’t insult my intelligence. Except with Lady in the Water.

Adam: I have a good career day story. When I was in college we had a guy from Aldi (do you have Aldi?...It’s like a grocery store for off-brand food) come into our placement office and give his pitch. He was like “You’re going to work your ass off and you’re not going to get paid much…” and we were all spoiled and like “That sounds terrible, you should go back to school!”

Rob: Wait. Last one. A graduate from my high school went on to write spin-off novels for ‘90s WB shows like Buffy and Charmed. He wasn’t nearly as excited about that as I was.

Adam: I would be super excited about that. If I could have a living writing Fast and the Furious fanfic (#FastFic) I totally would. So, how are you voting on Win It All? I’m a Mark Ahn this time.

Rob: While I probably won’t remember anything about Win It All this time next week, I’m voting Mark Ahn. It’s a perfectly fine little movie.

Adam: Join us next week, where we’re reviewing something. Until next time…

Rob: These seats are reserved.


  1. I need to see more Swanberg movies. I watched Drinking Buddies based on Adam's review and thought it was very good. (Anna Kendrick is pretty irresistible in a supporting role as the nurturing girlfriend.)

    1. A couple of other Swanberg's I'd recommend are Happy Christmas (Kendrick is good in that one also but Melanie Lynskey is great) and Nights & Weekends which is very mumblecore but also moving.

    2. I loved Drinking Buddies, really liked Win it All, and liked Happy Christmas and Easy. I'll definitely check out Nights and Weekends!

  2. Thanks for publishing such useful information.