The setup to Win it All, the new film from director Joe Swanberg who co-wrote the film with its star Jake Johnson, is an anticipatory slippery slope. Compulsive gambler Eddie (Johnson) is left with a shady bag of cash. We know what is about to happen. He knows it too, repeating “Oh, no” with a nervous dread.
Eddie starts on an uptick. An on-screen counter shows us as he racks up a profit. In the process, he meets a woman named Eva (Aislinn Derbez) in a bar after the interminably awkward dance that occurs when two people step in the same direction as they cross paths.
What goes up, must come down. Thus is the norm of any gambling narrative. As Eddie himself says, sometimes the world just brings things together perfectly. Mostly, however, it doesn’t.
Joe Swanberg has a certain way about him when it comes to dialogue. It is mumblecore without the pretension of the mumble. It is the conversation that Eddie has with Eva over breakfast. Or the reaction his brother (Joe Lo Truglio) has when he comes looking for a job. Natural and human without being completely stripped bare.
Win it All doesn’t play on bells and whistles. The story takes you down the rabbit hole that you recognize from the last gambling movie you saw. But it does it successfully by following its central character down the tube to the bottom. The irony of his final situation, the rock-and-a-hard-place conundrum, is adequately tense, even if it is set up with humor.
This climax is staged in almost complete silence. Some mumbled conversation, banter as a nervous Eddie tries to coax his way into a winning streak, permeates through. But mostly it is just the clinking of chips as he struggles his way through.
At least at first. Then that ominous drum score kicks in.
Win it All is a light dramedy with a lot of weight behind its characters. As straightforward as its narrative is, it still provides enough—particularly in Johnson’s performance—to satisfy from start to finish.
Win it All: B-
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)