The Upside of Anger (2005) / Drama-Comedy
MPAA Rated: R for language, sexual situations, brief violence, and some drug use
Running Time: 118 min.
Cast: Joan Allen, Kevin Costner, Mike Binder, Erika Christensen, Alicia Witt, Keri Russell, Evan Rachel Wood, Tom Harper
Director: Mike Binder
Screenplay: Mike Binder
Review published April 9, 2005
Writer/director Mike Binder's ("The Mind of the Married Man", Londinium) witty and engaging drama, The Upside of Anger, stems from observations he made growing up as a child in the home of a divorced parent. As he saw it, the "broken home" life was filled with misplaced anger and a wide range of tumultuous emotions, keeping the unit together, but making the relationships dysfunctional at best.
Binder actually wrote the script in order to give a comedic role to actress Joan Allen (The Bourne Supremacy, The Notebook), with whom he worked with on the film, The Contender, and she takes full advantage of the opportunity to excel. As a mother who tries to maintain her composure amid the trials and tribulations of raising four girls blossoming into women, Allen tries on many hats, sometimes more than one at a time, trying to look like she isn't falling apart when all the while she is seething inside with rage and a fury of frightening intensity. Despite the underlying anger, the character is well-rounded, with the ability to laugh and have moments of happiness, never settling into a one-note portrayal that many other filmmakers might have gone for in order to drive home points.
Allen plays Terry Wolfmeyer, who must confront rearing her rambunctious daughters when her husband is no longer around. Feeling deserted and lonely, Terry grows bitter, depressed and angry, turning to alcohol to try to drown out the feelings that are bubbling up from within her. It doesn't help when her beer-guzzling, ex-ballplayer neighbor, Denny (Kevin Costner, Open Range), starts poking around the house now that hubby has left the roost, forming a romantic tension between uptight Terry and her daughters that have started to lose respect for her.
Although The Upside of Anger is primarily a drama, dealing with some very weighty and emotional issues, it is also quite a very funny movie as well. Binder scores most of the humor through the honest characterizations, allowing us to see the humor of the situation through the reality of the reactions of the actors. There are events in the film that seem a bit farfetched, and nearly all of the characters have some serious quirks, but the writing and direction always stays true to the moment, allowing us to go with the flow of the story in a very natural progression.
Allen isn't the only one to turn in a good performance, although she is obviously the standout. All of the girls are also well-cast, hand-picked by Binder for each role. Mike Binder also writes a funny character to play for himself, as Shep, the somewhat slimy radio producer who can't keep his paws off of women half his age. Of course, Kevin Costner delivers in another performance as a down-and-out baseball player, which seems to be a typecast that has done his career a world of good.
The Upside of Anger is a refreshing and entertaining look into the type of family one rarely sees in films, and only the occasional lapses into being a bit too cute with the characters or forced depth in the situations keep this from being a true standout film. However, for those who like comedic family dramas, like Terms of Endearment, Moonlight Mile, or American Beauty (sans the artistic elements), The Upside of Anger makes for a very worthy viewing, full of priceless moments and some food for thought.
©2005 Vince Leo