Win It All

Win It All ★★★★

Being one of the primary contributors to the mumblecore genre, Joe Swanberg has evolved over the years as his name has gained greater prominence, collaborating with notable actors like Olivia Wilde, Anna Kendrick, Brie Larson, Jake Johnson, Lena Denham, and Greta Gerwig that would surely attract unfamiliar audiences to his craft as a filmmaker. His growth as a filmmaker has demonstrated that transition from that rough and spontaneous aesthetic of filmmaking to the casual blend of mainstream filmmaking that his recent films have been steadily producing. As he slowly becomes a household name, Swanberg has managed to gain a stronger and secure access to financial backing that has surely opened his horizons as a filmmaker; an opportunity to dive into stories and realise them in a manner that would have felt restrictive back then.

In 2017, Swanberg releases Win It All, a film that still confidently encompasses the qualities that would traditionally be found in the director’s line of filmmaking, but this time, backed by the streaming titan Netflix, with a budget and creative confidence that may previously have been unavailable, and not to mention his third collaboration with Jake Johnson, there is a comforting balance between the filmmaker’s mumblecore tendencies and ambitious visions that he may have for the material. The film still carries scenes that were shot as if it was a fly on the wall, while other key segments of the film are shrouded in the 16mm format’s roughness while handling the camera with a cinematic grace that feels fitting and inspired for the moment.

Swanberg’s approach in constructing and executing Win It All - a story about a man’s falling pit from gambling - radiates a notable charm through his handling of the actors and the comedic sting of the material, while simultaneously detaching the film from a predictable rhythm, but rather enhance the present dangers and stakes of his predicament, identifying the present emotional waters in his fall and search for redemption. Johnson, playing the film’s protagonist and as one of it’s co-writers, conveys a man in real desperation, wanting to preserve whatever hope that is left and hoping to somehow emerge from this situation as a renewed individual. The only antagonist that repeatedly bogs him down is himself, and Swanberg refuses to entice other forces to enter and influence the narrative arc, knowing that to truly earn his progression is to allow the character to fight the demons alone and within.

This may be the director’s most accessible feature yet, but to say that doesn’t necessarily mean that Swanberg’s capabilities as a storyteller have dampened. Win It All still has the goods to entertain, while also along the way, reveal elements of human nature that are often shaded solely destructive, but here attended so in a satirical and ironic manner that places this closely along with the greats in regards to depicting addiction.

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