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The Upside of
Let's get the griping out of the way first, shall we?
Writer/director Mike Binder structures The Upside of Anger as a flashback, in
this case a gratuitous and leaden device which adds absolutely nothing to his film. His
second misjudgment is to use voiceovers both at the beginning and at the end, a totally
unnecessary distraction from the story he has to tell. His most grievous mistake is to
have the voiceover recite the moral of the tale at the end of the film, as if he lacked
confidence that he successfully had made his points within the body of the film or, worse,
he's not willing to trust the intelligence of his audience to have figured it out for
themselves. That said, rest assured that in between the unfortunate bookends
Binder delivers a fresh, funny, pointed comedy. It's a breakthrough for a director who has
a string of humdrum movies on his previous record.
The setting is that favorite location of American filmmakers,
upper-middle class suburbia, in this case, outside of Detroit. Terry Wolfmeyer (Joan
Allen) is the one who's angry. Although the other characters get their moments of anger,
too, Terry is thoroughly, profoundly, boiling-over-with-rage angry since her husband
disappeared--ran off with his Swedish secretary, she thinks. So she maintains a condition
of being perpetually pickled, drinking all day long (and smoking endlessly) as the
television reports on largely ignored news of terrorists and the situation in Pakistan.
Terry directs her anger at the people around her. Her neighbor, Denny
Davies (Kevin Costner), a once famous baseball player living off of his past glory,
sympathizes with her, drinks with her, desires her, and also wants something more in the
way of an emotional connection.
Terry's four beautiful daughters present convenient targets for verbal
attacks; Terry's prevailing anger combined with caustic wit elevate rather standard family
conflicts into the stuff of high comedy. Popeye (Evan Rachel Wood) is the youngest--she
gets to deliver the voiceover. Emily (Keri Russell) is an aspiring ballerina who Mom
actively discourages, preferring more conventional education and career goals. Hadley
(Alicia Witt) triggers the meet-the-incipient-in-laws lunch that is one of the funniest
scenes in the movie. And Andy (Erika Christensen) gets involved in an affair with a
scruffy radio producer (played by Binder) twice her age. "That's the problem with
being a deviate," he complains, "Everyone thinks you're one-dimensional."
None of the girls gets sufficient exposure for serious character development; they're
there to serve as satellites to Terry's story.
Costner is in unexpectedly good form, mixing middle-aged sexiness with
gently expressed emotional neediness, but he, too, is secondary to Terry. Joan Allen (The Bourne Supremacy, The Contender) is front and center throughout,
never once hitting a wrong note as she vents her rage with conviction and delivers the
often smart and witty dialogue with perfect timing. Always a reliable pro, this
performance should propel Allen out of the supporting roles that have been her lot and
into major stardom.
- Arthur Lazere