'Win It All' Is A Low-Key Charmer And A Perfect Vehicle For Jake Johnson [SXSW]

Win It All is a nice movie.

That may seem like faint praise, but it's hard to think of a more accurate or complimentary way to describe the latest collaboration between co-writer/director Joe Swanberg and co-writer/actor Jake Johnson. It is a pleasant, agreeable movie about people you like, where every single scene (and the movie itself) refuses to overstay its welcome. It is funny. It is moving. It is sweet. It is easy to watch. It is nice.

The set-up is low-key and really just an excuse to let a wonderful cast bounce off each other for 90 minutes. Johnson plays Eddie, a pleasant but underachieving slacker who spends his days directing traffic at the ballpark and his nights feeding his unforgiving gambling debt, pouring every last dollar into backroom poker games. So when a criminal acquaintance heads off to prison and leaves him in charge of a duffel bag filled with an unspecified amount of cash (it's a lot), our good-natured man-child has to overcome his addictions and grow up or face unspecified but surely awful consequences.

This is Swanberg and Johnson's third collaboration as actor and director (and second as co-writers) and it's become increasingly clear that these two bring out the best in each other. Swanberg's loose and laid-back directorial style benefits when he has an endless well of charisma in his frame – Johnson benefits by having a collaborator willing to let him indulge his more layered acting chops, the stuff that sometimes gets left on the cutting room floor of most comedies. It's easy to watch Win It All and hope that these two continue to make a new movie together every few years until they croak.

Swanberg surrounds Johnson with likable actors, but it's Joe Lo Truglio who walks away with the film as Eddie's responsible, financially sound older brother. It's rare for this kind of slacker comedy to let a character who has his act together be this funny. This guy could have been a scold, a total square, but Lo Truglio manages to make his sense of responsibility amusing and admirable. The same goes for the increasingly omnipresent (but never unwelcome) Keegan-Michael Key as Eddie's sponsor. There are moments where it feels like Aislinn Derbez's love interest will be another stock indie dream girl who shows up just to "fix" our slovenly hero, but it's a sweet performance that allows you fall head-over-heels for her just as Eddie does.

The greatest trick Win It All pulls is that it's not about a schlub learning about the important things in life – it's a movie about a schlub learning about the important things in life and then meticulously putting the pieces of his life back together. So much of the film's comedy and sweetness stems from Eddie acknowledging that its time to grow up and take personal responsibility. You know, the stuff that's usually jammed into a third act montage in most comedies.

In fact, Win It All's biggest stumble comes when it disregards Eddie's growth in favor of a silly and slapdash (if admittedly crowd-pleasing) climax, where personal growth is thrown to the wayside in favor of big stakes. Thankfully, the film rebounds with its very sudden and very perfect ending.

Joe Swanberg has come a long way since his micro-budget "mumblecore" beginnings and his confidence as a director and storyteller are on full display in Win It All. His ability to bring out his best in actors, and his unobtrusive shooting style, make him the blue collar Woody Allen we didn't know we needed. If he can make more movies as fun as Win It All, another Swanberg production a year for the foreseeable future seems like an awfully agreeable notion.

/Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10