The Upside of Anger

There are many complaints about the lack of good roles for women over the age of thirty. One possible reason for this shortfall is Joan Allen. Allen (Off the Map, The Notebook) is almost always terrific, and is highly respected by her peers. In fact, her roles here and in Off the Map were written specifically for her. It doesn't get much better than that. Here, as Terry Wolfmeyer, Allen gets to go through emotional highs and lows that every actor dreams of in a role. She goes from drunken bitterness, to biting rage, all infused with a very witty streak. Allen's performance is such that it's easy to see the determination in Terry as she tries to hold her composure, yet one can see her vulnerability at the same time. Terry's husband left her and her four impossibly gorgeous daughters (Alicia Witt, Erika Christensen, Keri Russell, and Evan Rachel Wood) to run off to Sweden with his secretary, leaving Terry distraught. To deal with it, she drinks and lashes out at everybody around her.

Her neighbor, Denny Davies (Kevin Costner, Open Range, Dragonfly), a lecherous radio host and ex-baseball player, sees the potential for an easy conquest, so he begins hanging around the Wolfmeyer house excessively. Everything sounds a lot more morose than it actually is. The Upside of Anger is quite the opposite; it's hilarious. Terry and Denny verbally spar, insulting each other with glee. While Denny's motives are unsavory, he's actually a pretty decent guy, and not surprisingly, the two begin an actual relationship. This isn't a normal movie relationship but one where two broken people are learning to trust again. It's things like this that make writer/director Mike Binder's (The Search for John Gissig, Fourplay) more complex and emotional than a typical Hollywood drama.

Instead of grieving, Terry is trying to put on an air of normalcy for her daughters. She does not realize that this is making things worse. Hadley (Witt, Two Week's Notice, Vanilla Sky) has the worst relationship with Terry. She also lives away for college, and is getting married. Andy (Christensen, Riding the Bullet, The Perfect Score) wants to work instead of going to college, and Emily (Russell, We Were Soldiers, Mad About Mambo) wants to go to an arts school. The youngest, Popeye (Wood, The Missing, Thirteen) has the least amount of conflict with her mother, and serves as the narrator for the film.

Against all logic, Denny becomes the center of sanity. It's his presence that helps to ground Terry, and paves the way for her to regain the ability to be an effective mother. Yet, every time she takes a step forward, some other crisis will arise to test her patience. The best one comes in the form of Denny's producer Shep (Binder). Shep, a much older man, decides to hire Andy as a production assistant for purely lustful reasons, and the two begin dating, much to the annoyance of Terry. Binder is highly effective as Shep, mainly because his character says all the things that people think, but know better not to say. Costner is also very funny. This is because he is not the star of the film, since when he is, he tends to overact and add a great deal of unnecessary importance to his role. Roles like this, where he plays ordinary men are his best ones. Binder never lets things get too emotional. His script is funny of cutting remarks, smart and sophisticated dialogue, and touches of the absurd. This makes The Upside of Anger one of those rare films made for adults rather than special effects hungry teenagers.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 58 minutes, Rated R for language, sexual situations, brief comic violence, and some drug use.

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