December 1, 2011 -- In this dramedy film, a financially-strapped lawyer cuts a legal and moral corner, hoping nobody finds out. He gets away with it for a while, but eventually he has to face the consequences of his actions. In a funny way, however, he is enriched by the experience.
Paul Giamatti stars as the desperate lawyer, Mike Flaherty. There aren't many actors better suited to this kind of smart, put-upon, world-weary character as well as Giamatti. Mike is just barely hanging on, but won't admit it to his family. He is feeling the pressure when he desperately agrees to become the guardian of a rich old man, Leo Poplar (played by Burt Young of the “Rocky” movies). Mike tells the court he will keep the man at his home, where he wants to be, but instead he puts him in a kind of upscale nursing home, so he doesn't have to take care of him personally, and pockets the $1,500 a month fee for administering the guardianship.
What seems like a simple arrangement turns out to be more complicated when Poplar's wayward grandson, Kyle (Alex Shaffer) shows up at Mike's door. Kyle wants to visit his grandfather and ends up staying with Mike's family since he has nowhere else to stay. Mike, a former wrestler, is the local high school wrestling coach. When he finds out that Kyle was a championship-calibre wrestler in another state, he quickly gets Kyle enrolled in the local high school where he becomes the star of the school's wrestling team (actor Alex Shaffer is an experienced wrestler, and it shows in these scenes). Mike sees a state wrestling title in his future.
Then, Kyle's wayward mother, Cindy (Melanie Lynskey of “Helena from the Wedding”) shows up and Mike's win-win scheme quickly unravels. Cindy wants her father's money. Kyle hates her and her boyfriend, who has beat him up. Cindy plans to take Kyle and her father away with her to another state, something that neither Leo nor Kyle wants to do. Mike fights back in legal proceedings, but can only get so many concessions from Cindy. In the process, Cindy's lawyer discovers Mike's secret about his guardianship maneuver, putting him in legal hot water and in bad relations with Kyle, and his own family and friends.
Mike tries to unravel this mess and make amends, at the same time protecting Kyle and his grandfather from the predatory clutches of Cindy. It is not easy. This combination comedy and drama works well, in part because of good performances by everyone, including Amy Ryan (“Before the Devil Knows You're Dead”) as Jackie, Mike's wife, Margo Martindale (“Secretariat”) as Eleanor, Cindy's lawyer, Jeffrey Tambor (“The Hangover Part II”) as Stephen Vigman, Mike's law partner and Bobby Cannavale (“The Station Agent”) as Terry Delfino, Mike's friend, and the film's primary comic relief. This film rates a B.
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