Saturday, August 27, 2005
Movie Review: "The Upside of Anger"
Starring Joan Allen, Kevin Costner, Erika Christensen, Evan Rachel Wood, Keri Russell, Alicia Witt and Mike Binder
Directed by Mike Binder
Playing a wounded, bitter and yes, angry wife and mother of four daughters, Joan Allen takes on her role as Terry Wolfmeyer with gusto. It's an almost force of nature performance that lays down a solid formation for the rest of the cast to work from in writer-director Mike Binder's "The Upside of Anger."
As the movie opens, Terry is struggling to deal with the collapse of her marriage and the subsequent disappearance of her husband to Sweden with his secretary – with whom he had been having an affair. Terry seems to be as disgusted with the cliché of having an affair with a secretary as the act itself.
Left behind to continue as head of the household, Terry also has difficulties maintaining strong relationships with her daughters, particularly Emily (Keri Russell), who desires to pursue a dancing career in spite of her mother's lack of support. Choosing to deal with her personal problems through a near constant haze of booze, Terry finds some solace from neighbor Denny Davies (Kevin Costner), an ex-pro baseball player who is also less-than-thrilled with how his life has been going lately.
It would have been easy here for the movie to tread down a predictable path, with each character filling a void in each other's life and falling deeply in love. But thankfully, Binder's script adds some needed depth to Terry and Denny's relationship, with neither character exactly sure what the next step should be. At first, they're simply just drinking buddies, with Denny the family's new frequent dinner guest, much to the bemusement of the daughters. Denny's just thrilled to have the company and a chance at a free meal.
As time passes, their relationship deepens, but Terry continues to hold onto her anger at her husband, as well as with some of her children's choices – such as daughter Andy's (Erika Christensen) relationship with Denny's radio talk show producer (Binder). While generally tolerant and even sometimes amused at Terry's emotional rants, Denny's patience begins to wear thin, leading to an explosive confrontation in her bathroom. Costner, in his best performance in years, is pretty close to matching Allen note for note, as a former athlete who is willing to talk about anything on his talk show except for baseball. He shows a light comic touch and charm that demonstrates why he became a movie star in the first place.
But the success of the movie largely rests on Allen's shoulders, in a role that Binder said he wrote with her in mind. It's a role that requires a lot of emotional range and the willingness to not necessarily come off as likable. Allen somehow keeps from chewing scenery in her scenes, although the temptation had to be there, especially in the second and third act, as some curveballs are thrown her way.
With so many storylines of the daughters and overlapping family relationships, the movie seems to stretch itself a little too thin overall. And a late plot development plays off as a bit unnecessary, yet is still well acted.
There is a certain intelligence and wit portrayed in "The Upside of Anger" that almost feels fresh. Still, that may seem like a bit of a backhanded compliment based on the lack of intelligence that frequents a lot of films coming out of Hollywood these days.
(Rated R for language, sexual situations, brief comic violence and some drug use.)