There's a telling moment in Win It All, Netflix's new gambling comedy from director Joe Swanberg, where Jake Johnson's protagonist Eddie, fresh off a humiliating night of poker losses, sulks into an alley, removes his jacket, and throws it against a brick wall in a fit of rage. He's pissed. Unhinged. A wild man. But only for a second: the flustered New Girl star quickly picks up the coat and walks away. Even at rock bottom, he's not throwing away his shit.
That type of wry practicality, the performance of a grand gesture followed by a self-aware step-back, is part of what makes Swanberg's work so refreshing. In 2013's Drinking Buddies, a craft-beer workplace ensemble piece that also starred Johnson, the prolific writer-and-director toyed with the conventions of the rom-com while sprucing up his improvisational filmmaking style. Last year's Easy, a sex-and-star-filled Netflix show, chronicled the romantic fumblings of more than a dozen Chicagoans in a series of low-key, sitcom-ish vignettes. The stories don't always connect on an emotional level, but the observations linger.
In Johnson, an endearing wiseass, Swanberg has found his ideal muse. The director and star share a co-writing credit on Win it All, which tells the story of Eddie, a gambling addict struggling to get his life together. Eddie is a familiar Chicago type: big smile, messy beard, gold necklace, crew-neck sweatshirt. He parks cars during Cubs games and always keeps a few cans of Old Style in his fridge. He's a solid hang.
But, as his Gamblers Anonymous sponsor Gene (Keegan-Michael Key) often reminds him, he's also a loser. "You've never won," says Gene during one of their casual diner meetups. "You lose lose lose."