Netflix’s “Win It All," a small-scale film that premiered at SXSW on Saturday, has a simple premise yet a surprisingly large amount of charm. “New Girl's” Jake Johnson plays Ed, a lazy, unmotivated, unfiltered and impulsive man, always indulging his vices. His friend, played by Keegan-Michael Key of “Key and Peele,” repeatedly calls him a loser and he is just that in almost every way. A shady friend asks Ed to look after a duffle bag while he is in prison, warning him not to look inside. Naturally, curiosity wins and he finds, among other items, a large amount of cash. His gambling addiction gets the better of him and he eventually gambles away the money, desperate for a way to earn it back. The film has unexpected twists and turns that maintain engagement from start to finish, rooting for this mess of a man who won’t root for himself.
This is Jake Johnson’s third collaboration with director Joe Swanberg, known for “Drinking Buddies” and the Netflix series, “Easy.” Swanberg has a distinct handcrafted, grassroot style that distinguishes his films from other big budget Hollywood projects. Despite using big film industry actors, his films maintain a sense of humility through low-budget and small crew production with a focus on everyday people, like a new wave Woody Allen. This casual nature to Swanberg’s film style creates intimacy through documentary-style camera movement, jump cuts and close-ups, building a sense of familiarity to these characters. Jake Johnson’s effortless comedic pacing and improvisation pair well with Swanberg’s material. During the Q and A, Johnson and Swanberg mention that this film is their most structured and scripted of their three collaborations. I had mixed thoughts about Swanberg’s “Easy” and was not sure what to expect with this film. Admittedly, the trailer did not quite excite me and I was fully prepared not to enjoy it; however I was pleasantly surprised. The film has a strong heart hidden within the dark comedy that becomes apparent especially at the end. Nothing is better than the close of a film that feels right and leaves a lasting impression to savor.