Paul Giamatti, one of the greatest character actor leading men of all time (I mean, American Splendor and John Adams?), is just so naturally empathetic, even when he's making a questionable decision. Amy Ryan is great as his wife and they're great together, his friends Bobby Carnavale and Jeffrey Tambor are hilarious, and as the alternate family, Melanie Lynsky (starred and started in Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures with Kate Winslet) is by turns infuriating and moving, the legendary Burt Young is the grandfather with early dementia, and the new kid, the wrestling prodigy, Alex Shaffer, has big, big future ahead of himself.
Director Tom McCarthy made The Visitor and The Station Agent before this (neither of which, I'm ashamed to say, have I seen through yet) while acting in things like The Wire and Little Fockers. He's clearly carving out a very nice spot for himself as a solid storyteller that great actors want to work with, and he gives them plenty of time to rehearse. A less juiced version of the Woody Allen model? Good for him, what a relief from all the superhero movie trailers and 3D kids animated movies. And anything with a thin young waif-warrior throwing a punch and knocking out a 250 lb guy. One with 1000 movies, sure. Not 100.
If you believe stories are being moral tales, tilted reflections that in some way inform how we live our lives, teach us certain choices, and you want to laugh a little and be moved a little, this is a flick for you. You'll think about it afterwards, about Kyle and how he handles himself. About what the grandpa wants and how important that is.
About paying someone to fix that water heater.