The Upside of Anger

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I'm Not Angry, I'm Mad as Hell!!!!

Mar 20, 2005
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Excellent

  • Bang For The Buck

Pros:Binder's Writing/Directing, Cinematography, Look, Score, & Cast notably Allen & Costner.

Cons:A Bit Predictable at Times.

The Bottom Line: "The Upside of Anger" is a funny, smart angry comedy from Mike Binder with Joan Allen's Brilliant, Angst-Ridden Performance. (4.5 out of 5)



Considered to be one of the most gifted but underrated actresses of her generation, Joan Allen has appeared in several small films like Peggy Sue Got Married and Tucker: The Man and his Dreams for Francis Ford Coppola and other films like Manhunter for Michael Mann and Searching for Bobby Fischer. Then in 1995, Allen received a Supporting Actress nomination by the Academy Award for her portrayal as First Lady Pat Nixon in Oliver Stone's film about Richard Nixon. After scoring a second Supporting nod for The Crucible with Daniel-Day Lewis, Allen starred in hit box office films like Face/Off and Pleasantville before stealing the show in Ang Lee's dysfunctional family drama The Ice Storm. After receiving a third Oscar nomination for The Contender where she received a Best Actress nod, Allen had seem to be taken for granted as leading roles were coming harder to find for her. While she appeared in recent hit films like The Bourne Supremacy and The Notebook, Allen's talents was recognized by her co-star in The Contender, Mike Binder who wrote a project for her in this offbeat romantic comedy called The Upside of Anger.

Written and directed by Binder who also stars in the film, The Upside of Anger is a story of a middle-age woman named Terry Wolfmeyer, with four daughters whose life falls apart after her husband has left her for her secretary in Sweden. Leaving alone with her four daughters, Terry goes on an angry alcohol binge as the lives of her young daughters begin to change. Terry finds comfort in a retired, drunk baseball player who has trouble trying to move on from his post-baseball stardom life. With Allen playing Terry, it is a film that not only shows Allen’s talents in drama but also as a comedic actress. Also starring Kevin Costner, Erika Christensen, Keri Russell, Alicia Witt, and Evan Rachel Wood. The Upside of Anger is a smart, funny, and dramatic story of people trying to find ways to heal the loneliness in their lives.

One day at a normal family night, Terry Wolfmeyer announces to her daughters that their father has left and moved to Sweden with his secretary without leaving a note or anything. For Terry, her days living a nice family lifestyle are over as she now leans more towards to alcohol. The four daughters including the eldest Hadley (Alicia Witt) are all having a hard time not just to the disappearance of their father but also their mother's alcoholic rage. Hadley (Alicia Witt) is planning to leave to finish college while aspiring ballerina elder daughter Emily (Keri Russell) takes over while trying to study her dancing while younger sister Andy (Erika Christensen) is trying to get a job since she doesn't want to go to college. For the youngest daughter Lavender "Popeye" (Evan Rachel Wood), she seems to miss her father more than anyone while trying to understand more about her mother's anger.

With Terry watching TV reports, coming to her house about a property that's being built next door is a friend of her husband, Denny Davies (Kevin Costner) who is a former baseball player-turned radio DJ comes by with a beer in tow. He and Terry decide to get drunk and watch TV and immediately, they become drinking buddies of sorts. Whenever Denny is at work, he's often hassled by his producer Shep (Mike Binder) to keep talking about baseball but Denny wants to move on from his life as a ballplayer. After breaking into the house to meet with Terry, he is suddenly becoming a regular at the Wolfmeyer house as he bonds with Terry and her daughters while getting Andy a job working as Shep's production assistant.

Denny feels attracted to Terry and vice versa but when she comes to his house to try to sleep with him, he hides. With the months passing by, Terry becomes angrier with Andy’s new job and Emily's aspiration to be a ballerina, especially when she applies to a new school. Popeye meanwhile, tries to hit on a schoolmate in Gorden (Dane Christensen) who likes bungee jumping while she is working on her own documentary project for school. Terry and Denny do get together through their drunken state and their sadness with Denny no longer interested in baseball or his celebrity and Terry trying to find her ground without her husband. Things get worse for Terry with Emily now being angry at her and learning that Shep is sleeping with Andy where Terry goes on the breaking point.

With Hadley now returning from graduating college, the news that she's getting married and his pregnant only troubles Terry more than ever as she embarrasses herself in a dinner party. Terry leans to Denny about the incident as the two search for more and more ground on their troubled live. With Hadley now married, Terry learns about the kind of jerk Shep is while Popeye's search for a male figure continues as she finds a surrogate dad in Denny. Denny finds himself more comfortable at the turmoil of the Wolfmeyer house, even comforting the daughters when Emily becomes ill with stomach problems. Denny feels more involved as he felt that being with the Wolfmeyer girls and Terry gives him a fulfilment that baseball nor his celebrity status could fulfill. Terry becomes reluctant while she deals with the bottle and figuring out why her husband hasn't picked up the phone or appear. With the family becoming closer and Denny becoming part of it, Terry finds peace while dealing with the truth of her husband’s disappearance.

Mike Binder, who is also known for the funny HBO comedy The Mind of a Married Man brings a fresh approach to the world of dysfunctional families. While the film at times is a bit predictable, Binder creates situations and moments that not only shows the troubling world of alcoholism but how everyone involved deals with it including the young women's growing pains. Binder brings in some great scenes that are often funny like one that has his character eating dinner with Denny and the girls that is extremely funny or some strong dramatic moments when Emily nearly faces death. Binder as a director really uses the camera to give the perspective of its characters or from the audience's point of view while using some masterful, stylized shots.

Helping Binder in the photography department is British cinematographer Richard Greatrex who brings out some nice lighting in many of the interior scenes including beautiful blue filters in the winter setting scenes on the exteriors. Many of the film's look and location settings of suburban Detroit is credited to the film's production designer Chris Roope and art director Tim Stevenson for giving a realistic look to the film and the contrast of the houses of the Wolfmeyer and Denny's messy house. Also the costume design of Deborah Lynn Scott works for giving the characters a modern and realistic look of suburbia and freshness to the film. The film is nicely paced thanks to the editing of Steve Edwards and Robin Sales that is masterfully presented. The film's orchestral score is done plaintively and with subtlety by Alexandre Desplat that not only brings a nice tension to the film but also a sweetness.

The film's ensemble cast is excellent whether it's smaller performances from Arthur Penhallow as a fellow DJ or Tom Harper as Hadley's fiancee to Erika Christensen's younger brother Dane as Popeye's bungee-jumping love interest. Mike Binder gives a hilarious performance as the disgusting, vile *sshole Shep with his take on older women and how he enjoys younger woman and brings a great sense of tension for Joan Allen. Erika Christensen delivers her most fulfilling and smartest performance since her breakthrough performance in Steven Soderbergh's Traffic by bringing a bit of sexual innocence and charming rebellion along with a sense of intelligence when she talks to Shep about their relationship. Keri Russell is wonderful as the aspiring dancer who feels unappreciated by her mother as Russell delivers a wonderful sense of anger and compassion in one of the best performances of her career. Alicia Witt is also excellent in her role as the angry older sister Hadley with her rebellious spirit to break away from her mother and her while bringing sympathy to her character when she wants to move on and begin her own life.

Evan Rachel Wood delivers the best performance among her young female counterparts as the youngest girl who grows a bit too fast only to grow up more in her mind. Wood brings a sense of compassion and subtlety that is filled with depth as she searches for a male figure while dealing with her mother in a very quiet way while playing the narrator of sorts in the film's beginning as she tries to understand things. Kevin Costner delivers probably not just his funniest performance since Bull Durham but also one of the wisest from an actor of his caliber. Costner isn't just funny also brings a nice sexual tension and frustration that recalls his old characters but with a feeling of him wanting to move on. Costner is very understated in scenes that involve a lot of drama while playing a great drunk who isn't too loud, filled with rage, but a quiet funny one. This is Costner's most fulfilling work since JFK and the very underrated Open Range as this role should give Costner a much-deserved comeback.

Joan Allen is not only the heart of the movie but she delivers a hell of a performance that should not be overlooked come Oscar time next year. Allen brings a rage and angst that is rarely seen in performances from middle-age adults while Allen also shows her comedic talents whenever she's drinking or in a rage. Allen clearly steals the show as she not only has great chemistry with the actresses playing her daughter but also with Costner that is very sweet and understanding. Allen also proves her range in the dramatic scales while proving that a woman her age is still hot and when she and Costner are together, they prove that age has no limits. This is right now the first real candidate for a Best Actress prize and it should go to Joan Allen.

The Upside of Anger is a witty, angry, and heart wrenching comedy from Mike Binder led by the great performance of Joan Allen with a wonderful supporting cast led by Kevin Costner and Evan Rachel Wood in tow. Fans of Kevin Costner will enjoy seeing him a role that is filled with his talents while the film really belongs to Allen for her complex, masterfully executed performance. Credit should go to Binder for not just writing a great role for Allen but using his talents in comedy and drama to create the right role and right film for her as Binder should receive recognition for his work. With Wood, Erika Christensen, Keri Russell, and Alicia Witt giving great support, The Upside of Anger is one film that must not be missed for those who like funny, smart stories about dysfunction.

Related Reviews:

The Ice Storm (1997):

http://www.epinions.com/content_166334205572

Cecil B. Demented (2000):

http://www.epinions.com/content_102795546244

Thirteen (2003):

http://www.epinions.com/content_135975440004

The Perfect Score (2004):

http://www.epinions.com/content_128189369988


Recommend this product? Yes


Movie Mood: Date Movie
Viewing Method: Studio Screening/Premiere
Film Completeness: Looked complete to me.
Worst Part of this Film: Nothing


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