Win It All

Studio: Netflix
Directed by Joe Swanberg

Apr 07, 2017 Web Exclusive
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If you have a bag stuffed with money that needs looking after until you get out of prison, it’s probably best not to leave it with a gambling addict. It comes as no great surprise to find Jake Johnson’s perpetually losing Eddie dipping in, and soon vastly down. Gambling films tend to follow a pattern, and Win It All is no exception. Conventional though the arc may be, Joe Swanberg’s amiably rambling comedy finds itself away from the poker table, developing into a neat little dramedy along the way.

Johnson, who co-writes with Swanberg, plays Eddie with all the delusion an inveterate gambler needs to keep plowing that same fruitless furrow, and all the charm required to prevent everyone abandoning him. He works as a parking attendant at Cubs games, and drinks the nights away in backstreet poker tournaments. His brother (Joe Lo Truglio) and sister-in-law (Kris Swanberg) patiently despair, doing what they can to help instill some purpose in his life.

That purpose will arrive, though not before he’s taken $500 from the bag and somehow turned it into a $21,243 loss. Here gambling recedes from view as Eddie finds a girlfriend in Eva (Aislinn Derbez) and takes a job with his brother, eager to start his life anew. Much of Swanberg’s film watches this ascent back from the abyss, reveling in the incidental details.

With his trademark improvisational style in play once more, there’s a delightfully loose feel as Eddie cajoles bartenders into delivering drinks as part of an opening shot at flirtation, bares his soul to Eva in an anonymous diner, and finds the gutter during family bowling games. The camera roves around after him, taking in gentle joshing from his brother, incredulous stares from friends when he leaves the bar early to make sure he’s up for work, and pumped up clubbing with Eva. The visuals are soft, the song choices a comforting addition in the background, flaring up and fading away.

Johnson is also an engaging lead. It was with Swanberg in Drinking Buddies that he first headlined a film. They work well together to create a character suitably bruised without resorting to cheap dramatic shortcuts. There’s little in the way of sob story or justification, nor does Win It All glorify the situation. Eddie is an addict, and his journey back feels convincingly played out.

It’s the gambling that undoes some of this good work. After receding into the background, the standard tropes return, requiring one big final game on which the whole future rests. Swanberg and Johnson draw laughs from the situation, sending Eddie in with his friend masquerading as a bagman out of a mistaken belief it enhances his standing. Dressed in suits, he’s perturbed to overhear jibes referring to them as the Blues Brothers.

Unable to hide uneasiness with the gambling elements, Win It All abruptly ends the situation, returning to the personal. Swanberg has provided a gambling film significantly better when there are no chips in sight.

Author rating: 6.5/10

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