Joe Swanberg’s ‘Win It All’ won over SXSW, heads for Netflix

“Win It All.” Contributed by Mitch Buss

After toiling away for over a decade making incredibly low-budget independent films, director Joe Swanberg has fallen into a groove with Netflix that seems to suit him well.

Last year he premiered a series on the streaming service called “Easy” (which will begin shooting its second season this spring), directed a few episodes of another one of their shows (“Love”), and is now getting ready to launch his most accessible and slickly produced feature with them. And while the storyline was fully scripted out in advance this time, like in “Easy” the cast still largely improvised their dialogue.

Before the world premiere screening, Swanberg noted to festival director Janet Pierson that the movie “had to be” at the festival. His last big premiere in town was 2013’s “Drinking Buddies,” a movie that started to mark a new chapter in his career. It was a far cry from when he first debuted at SXSW in 2005 with the erotic drama “Kissing On The Mouth.”

This film is another collaboration between Swanberg and Jake Johnson. Johnson co-wrote the screenplay and also stars as Eddie Garrett, a well-intentioned man who just happens to be a gambling addict.

A friend who is about to go to jail shows up at his apartment one day and asks him to store an overstuffed duffel bag for him while he’s away. It seems to be a reasonable request but comes with the caveat that he never open the bag or worry about what is inside. Curiosity (of course) gets the better of Eddie, who later discovers that the bag is packed to the gills with cold, hard cash.

For a man who loves to gamble, this is a revelation that proves hard to resist. He decides that his new “storage business” could do him good if he just borrows $500 out of the bag to see what he can do with it. His sponsor (a hilarious Keegan-Michael Key) tries to talk him out of it, but that initially borrowed sum quickly becomes $2,148 in a card game and a spark is lit. Swanberg helps us follow the money by keeping a running tally of Eddie’s gains and losses on screen.

After Eddie loses far too much of the money, he attempts to go straight. He pleads with his brother (Joe Lo Truglio) to let him come work for the family landscaping business, something he’s apparently resisted for years. While all of this is happening, Eddie also falls in love. Mexican actress Aislinn Derbez stars in her first English-language role as Eva, a single mother who needs to ensure that things between them are really serious before introducing him to her daughter. This leads him into a bit of a double life, struggling with his desire for her and his addiction.

A surprise collect phone call from prison brings the news that Eddie doesn’t need – his pal is getting released from prison early and will be coming by in a week to retrieve his bag. It triggers a last-gasp attempt to make things right and provides for an exhilarating final act.

“Win It All” is accompanied by a truly funky soundtrack of mostly classic sounds from the Numero Group label and a percussion-heavy score by Dan Romer (“Beasts Of The Southern Wild”).

The movie only had one screening during SXSW but will premiere April 7 on Netflix.

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