Mike Flanery (Paul Giamatti) is a lawyer with a small practice in New Jersey. Business is slow, so he takes on any court-appointed cases for income. His friend Steven (Jeffrey Tambor) tells him the boiler in their office is shot, and a new one will cost $6000. Since they can’t afford to repair it, they decide to cover the files in the basement with plastic, and hope for the best. Mike and Steve are also volunteer wrestling coaches for the local high school team. The team is terrible: they haven’t one a single match all year.
Mike’s afternoon appointment is a court-appointed case for an elderly gentleman, Leo (Burt Young). Leo is suffering with the early stages of dementia, and the state is about to declare him incapacitated, and he needs a guardian. His long-estranged daughter cannot be found, so the State of New Jersey will become his guardian. Leo doesn’t want to move to a care facility-he adamantly wants to stay in his own house. Leo has money; his estate pays a girl to stay with him, and Mike is surprised to find that she is paid $1500 a month.
Mike goes jogging with friend Terry (Bobby Cannavale). While running, he tells Terry of his financial problems, and then collapses. Terry calls an ambulanceMike is declared fine and is told it is an anxiety attack. Mike won’t tell Jackie about the financial problems yet; he hopes he doesn’t have to and can work things out. He jokes that the only other option is to be a bartender at night. Mike levels to Terry that he has had attacks for several months. Terry asks what the doctor prescribed for it, and Mike answers: jogging.
At Leo’s court hearing, the State admits it cannot find his only living relative, Leo’s daughter. Before the judge rules that Leo has to go to a care center, Mike asks to talk to the judge. He offers to be his guardian, so Leo can stay in his home. The judge consents. Leo asks if we won, and Mike says “I think we did”.
Mike moves Leo into Oak Knoll, an assisted living facility, even though Leo doesn’t want to. He knows he can’t watch him if he lives in his own home with his job, family and responsibilities. He tells Leo that he just has to live there for a little while.
Mike, his wife Jackie (Amy Ryan) and their kids go to church; on the way home, Mike needs to stop at Leo’s empty house to turn off the water so it doesn’t freeze. They pull up to see a teenage boy sitting on the front steps, smoking. Mike asks him who he is, and he tells him that he is Kyle Timmons (Alex Shaffer), Leo’s grandson. He is 15, with bleached blonde hair, and tattoos. He is quiet and polite, too. He tells them he was sent there via bus from Columbus, while his mom is in rehab. Mike takes Kyle home with him for the night, and promises to take him to visit Leo in the morning. Jackie is not happy and says it is a crazy situation for a teenage boy, to be sent on a bus, and have no one else but a druggie mom. They call Kyle’s mom and leave messages, but they don’t hear from her.
In the morning, Kyle has breakfast with the family, and Mike’s two daughters like him. Abby asks him if he’ll play croquet with her, and he says that he will, once the weather warms up. He meets Leo and watches TV with him. Later, Mike takes him to the bus stop and buys him a ticket to return to Ohio. Late that night, Mike is woken from sleep by a phone call: it is the police. Kyle didn’t go home: he broke into Leo’s house and wants to stay. Mike brings him home and Jackie talks to him. She asks if there is a reason why he doesn’t want to go home? He tells her that his mom’s boyfriend is an asshole and he won’t go live with him while she is in rehab. He also says that his mom doesn’t care about him, and won’t be worried about where he is.
Jackie talks to Mike in their room: she tells him they have NO CHOICE, and they are not sending him back until she talks to his mom. “We have to do this-“she tells Mike. She tells him she is so angry and damn sad to see a kid in this situation. She adds she wants to go to Ohio and beat the crap out of his mom and her asshole boyfriend. Mike convinces her that beating the crap out of her probably isn’t a good idea.
Mike investigates and finds that Kyle’s mom is indeed in rehab, and has 5 more weeks. He takes Kyle with him to wrestling practice, and Kyle sits and watches. When they sit to eat dinner at home, Kyle asks Mike if he can join the practice tomorrow, and Mike is surprised, but agrees. At practice, he introduces Kyle to the team, and they are amazed at how good Kyle is: he pins his opponent in mere seconds, and cannot be taken down. On the way home, Mike asks if he’s wrestled before, and he says yes, but not recently. He also asks him, “How good are you?”, and Kyle says, “Pretty good”. Terry and Mike look him up on the internet, and find his amazing statshe was a State Finalist in Ohio as a freshman. They are thrilled. Terry convinces Mike to enroll him in school while he waits for his mom to get out of rehab, and to put him on the team. Mikes thinks about it.
The next day, Mike asks Kyle, and then enrolls him at the high school. Mike also gets the first guardianship payment of $1500 and deposits it. He then calls Jackie and tells her he “forgot” to mail the insurance payment, and would she do it. Terry comes to watch the next wrestling practice, and is amazed at just how good Kyle is. He begs to join Steve as an assistant coach. Terry is going through a bad divorce, and tells Mike he needs this as a distraction; Mike reluctantly agrees. Kyle is going to compete for the team, wrestling in the 119 lb weight class, at the upcoming match Saturday.
Jackie gets after Kyle for smoking, and he tells her he gave it up since he is wrestling now. She is happy about that. Much later, in the wee hours of the morning, when it is still dark out, Jackie and Mike hear a door, and he goes down to investigate: it’s Kyle, returning from an early run. He says he does that when he is wrestling. With this news, Jackie sarcastically tells Mike, “I hate you”.
As Kyle waits for his 1st match, the other members of their team all lose and get pinned. Kyle comes up, and Mike gives him some words of advice. Kyle asks him to slap his face, on the side. Mike is hesitant, and does it softly. Kyle says “harder” and Mike slaps his face and helmetKyle nods and begins his match. He is getting pummeled, and Mike is disappointed. Kyle looks up and smiles at Mike, Terry and Steve. “Was that a smile?” they ask, confused. Kyle then quickly flips and pins his opponent, and wins his match. It is their first win of the season, and the team and coaches go wild.
The family and Kyle develop a routine: eating meals together, training, chores and playing with the kids. Kyle shops at the grocery store with Jackie and they bond. When they next practice, Mike asks Kyle to explain his technique to the team. Kyle tells them that it isn’t technique but he imagines that the guy he is wrestling is trying to drown him, to kill him, and he needs to do whatever the fuck it takes to survive. There is silence in the locker room, and then Mike says, “Ok then…we are going to do whatever the fuck it takes” and they all smile.
When Kyle visits Leo, the TV is on, and a Judge-show comes on. He gets hysterical b/c he tells Kyle that the lady judge on TV made him come live in the old folks home. He demands that Kyle turn it off, and Kyle is upset at Leo’s agitated state. At home, Kyle asks about it, and Mike tries to explain that Leo was forced into the home (when he really wasn’t). Mike gets a phone call: Cindy, Kyle’s mom needs Mike to keep Kyle for another month, and he says ok.
On the bus going to a wrestling match, fellow teammate Stemler talks to Kyle and asks if he is nervous. Kyle says no, but Stemler says he is, even though he has never wrestled. He is just waiting until he feels ready. He fills Kyle in on the opponent, that they are 4th-ranked in the state. Kyle tells him that is probably why he feels nervous. Jackie and the kids have come to watch and cheer for Kyle. In the match, every single player on their team gets pinned and loses their match. When it is Kyle’s turn, Mike coaches him that he is wrestling Kenny Randall, one of the best in the state. But, he tells him not to worry as Kenny will be cocky and unprepared for Kyle. Mike slaps his helmet/face, and Kyle wrestles, and pins Kenny in a few seconds. Steve and Terry, the assistant coaches, jump up and down like little kids.
Jackie shows him that the baby can say “Kyle” nowshe picked it up at the match. He smiles and is happy. She is proud of him wrestling, but also tells him “no quitting” this time. He explains that he didn’t really quit, but was kicked off the team for stealing a teacher’s car. Jackie is shocked, and then tells him that it’s ok, and he is getting a second chance now to do something good. Kyle is shown hanging out with Stemler, and now the other teammates like him and come to Mikes’ house to hang out with Kylehe has been accepted and made friends.
Next wrestling meet is District Championship. Kyle stops in Mike’s office with Stemler: he tells Mike that Stemler is ready to wrestle. Mike’s eyes get bigStemler wrestle?, but he agrees. The team does better, and all they need is for Stemler to avoid getting pinned. Mike gives him a pep talk, and Stemler asks if he’ll softly slap his helmet, and Mike does. He goes to the mat, but the opponent had on a black protective mask that makes him look like Darth Vadar, and Stemler runs, refusing to wrestle b/c he is scared. Kyle talks to him and says that if the other guy is Darth, then Stemler is the Secret Apprentice. “You’ve got this” he adds, and Stemler goes back out. The opponent is much better, but Stemler avoids getting pinned, so they end up with enough points to win the whole meet. The team cheers and jumps, so excited to finally win. Mike asks Kyle how it feels to be so good, and he tells him it feels like he is in total control of everything. Mike says that must be nice, and Kyle says, “Yeah, it is”, and they walk out together.
Kyle goes to see Leo, and tell him of the win and show him his medal, and while he is there, his mom Cindy comes out. Kyle isn’t happy she is there, and he leaves. Cindy comes to Mike and Jackie’s house to talk, and they tell her that Kyle is doing well. She begins to cry, and then daughter Abby come upstairs to tell them that Kyle left by going out the basement window. Mike asks her if she’d consider staying a few weeks, until wrestling season ends, as Kyle has a chance to win State, and possibly scholarships, and she says only if she can stay in Leo’s house. Mike says that will be ok.
Cindy stops by Mike’s office with a lawyer: she hired her 2 weeks prior, meaning that she didn’t just get into town, but has been there, hatching a plan. She wants to relieve Mike of his guardianship, as she is Leo’s daughter, and take him with her to Ohio. Mike knows that Leo won’t want to go, as he and his daughter have no relationship, and he doesn’t want to leave his house and town. He suggests they meet again to talk further.
While venting with Terry, Mike realizes he has one advantage: Cindy doesn’t know she was disinherited from Leo’s will, and with no money coming her way, thinks she’ll back out.
At the meeting, Cindy professes to want to be with her dad, and when Mike tells her she has been disinherited, she flips out, cursing Leo, calling him a scumbag. The will can’t be changed, as he has been declared incapacitated, so she will never get a dime. She says she won’t take care of him if she isn’t getting any money.
At Regionals, the team is just one win away from the State Championship. Kyle is upset that his mom came to watch. He can’t get her off his mind, and gets rough in his match, throwing the opponent down, and gets a penalty. Mike tells him to focus, and says “YOU CONTROL THIS” and Kyle begins again. He soon gets another penalty, and loses the match, all because Cindy is there. In the locker room, he apologizes to Mike. He tells Mike he hates her, and doesn’t want to go live with her.
Mike sees Cindy outside and approaches her with a proposition: he will give her the $1500 a month guardianship money as long as she leaves Kyle and Leo with him. He says he’ll raise Kyle and take care of Leo for free. Cindy won’t agree. Kyle goes to his mom’s hotel to meet, and she makes him read the transcript of Leo’s hearing: he sees that Leo wasn’t forced into the home, but that Mike put him there. He jumps on his mom, and covers her mouth hard with his handhe yells that he doesn’t care about any of it, and to just leave Leo alone, and then he runs out.
Mike gets a call that Leo is missing from the care center. They look for him, and find him at his house with Kyle. Kyle busted him out and took him home, where he wanted to be. Kyle confronts Mike, with Jackie there, about sending Leo away, and Jackie is incredulous that Mike would do that. He admits it, and apologizes. Kyle jumps him, and wrestles him on the front lawn until Terry steps in and breaks it up. Kyle runs off. Mike finally has to tell Jackie how dire their financial situation is.
In the morning, Kyle shows up at home, and packs to leave. Mike goes to him, and asks him to just give him another chance. He tells him he is going to court to fight Cindy for Leo, and to fix things. They all go to court together, but before they go inside, Cindy and her lawyer motion Mike over. Cindy wants to know if his deal is still available, and Mike says yes. She is going to leave Leo and Kyle in exchange for the $1500 a month.
Kyle and Stemler are playing croquet in the yard with Abby as Mike returns from the office. He kisses Jackie, goes and changes clothes, and then we see him as a bartender at night. Terry comes in and orders a banana daiquiri, and stays at the bar to chat with Mike.
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