June 29, 2017

“Win it All” is another strong pairing of Jake Johnson and Joe Swanberg


Joe Swanberg has had one of the more interesting career upswings of any independent filmmaker out there. After being one of the essential founders of the mumblecore indie movement, he made a right turn of sorts a few years back. Opting for bigger stars and similarly simple premises, he’s found more acclaim than ever before. Between Drinking Buddies, Happy Christmas, and Digging for Fire, Swanberg is as exciting a writer/director as ever before. Most recently, Swanberg has teamed up again with frequent collaborator Jake Johnson for Win It All, a film that at once feels both different and similar than what he’s been up to lately. Above all else, it’s a great vehicle for Johnson, who does his best work when paired with Swanberg.

The flick is a character study, centered on gambler Eddie Garrett (Johnson). He’s broke, but charming. A nice guy unable to resist a card game, Eddie is down on his luck but doesn’t see it that way. Then, an acquaintance who is heading to prison asks Eddie to watch a duffel bag for him while he’s away for a short stint. There’s a monetary reward if he just puts the bag away and ignores it, but Eddie can’t resist. Inside, he finds a ton of cash, which he inevitably gambles with. Initially doing well, he ends up losing a ton, setting in motion a desperate scramble to get the money back before it’s too late. Swanberg co-writes with Johnson and directs, as well as edits the picture. The cast, in addition obviously to Johnson, includes Keegan-Michael Key, Joe Lo Truglio, Aislinn Derbez, Kris Swanberg, Jude Swanberg, Rony Shemon, Morgan Ng, Arthur Agee, Steve Berg, Adrian Jasso, and more. Dan Romer puts forward a solid score, while cinematography is by Eon Mora.

Without question, the main selling point here is Johnson, who is just tremendous in the lead role. There’s comedy, drama, and real pathos to be found here. Johnson is an underrated actor for sure, but outside of Swanberg’s collaborations (where he sometimes co-writes with him as well), it’s not always utilized. The Pretty One and Safety Not Guaranteed are probably the main non-Swanberg outings where he’s been able to shine. Regardless, he’s great here. As for Swanberg, he continues to be one of the better observational directors out there. He’s found a lovely little groove and it’s a pleasure to watch him in it.

For those curious, here is how I would rank Swanberg’s filmography to date, specifically his dozen best outings:

12. Caitlin Plays Herself
11. LOL
10. All the Light in the Sky
9. Autoerotic
8. Nights and Weekends
7. Hannah Takes the Stairs
6. 24 Exposures
5. Happy Christmas
4. Win It All
3. Digging for Fire
2. V/H/S (segment: The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger)
1. Drinking Buddies

Here also is how I would rank Johnson’s best performances so far:

10. Let’s Be Cops
9. Paper Heart
8. Joshy
7. Ceremony
6. Jurassic World
5. Digging for Fire
4. Safety Not Guaranteed
3. The Pretty One
2. Drinking Buddies
1. Win it All

Basically, Win It All is a sturdy little picture. It happens to be one of the month’s best new releases, even though it technically hit Netflix as opposed to theaters. If you’re a fan of what Swanberg has been up to lately, either on the big or small screen, this will be right in your wheelhouse. Doubly so if you’ve enjoyed Johnson’s work within those films. Johnson boosters will also love this more complicated leading role for him. He aces it. The movie is very solid and goes down easy. It’s simple, but part of its effectiveness is found within its simplicity. Give it a look and enjoy…

Be sure to check out Win It All, available on Netflix right now!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He also contributes to several other film-related websites.

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