He may not be the most famous indie director in the world. With the release of Super, he probably won’t even be the most famous one in the nerd-controlled corners of the internet where I stake my claim. But Thomas McCarthy has had one of the most extraordinary careers of any director currently working the publicity circuit.
His third film, Win Win is now playing, and if this is the first you’ve heard of Tom, you are not alone. Given that McCarthy started out as the proverbial actor who really wants to direct, odds are you’ve seen him more than you’ve heard about him. He’s played Dr. Bob in the never-ending Meeting the Parents franchise, a shady reporter in The Wire’s last season, three characters on Law & Order, and one love interest on Alley McBeal. I know him as one of the many Crusading Teachers of Boston Public, because I have a unspeakable addiction to David E. Kelley dramedy. McCarthy only really escaped the TV ghetto in 2003, the same year he made his first film, The Station Agent, which won every Independent Film Award that matters (and even a few that don’t).
The Station Agent starred Peter Dinklage (since seen in…god, what would you have seen him in? The seven episodes of Nip/Tuck he’s been in?) as a friendless city slicker who rediscovers friendship and love in the most romantic place on Earth: rural New Jersey.
Win Win takes place in the same, savage land of Kevin Smith and Bruce Springsteen. A land that, for all its flaws, is all warm, comforting, fuzzy and triumphant in its own, quietly defiant, New Jersey way.
Which is part of why I found this interview with McCarthy in my old home town paper, the Kansas City Star, so hilarious. I try to avoid being too patronizing and paternalistic towards my home region…but sometimes, the naivete of its press is downright cute. McCarthy casts a dwarf as a leading man, and that’s all it takes to make him an “art-house” director in the Star’s eyes. God, I remember a time when I lived in the Midwest and didn’t know what “art-house” really meant either.