The Upside of Anger

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


 

            Movie lovers wait all year for a movie like “The Upside of Anger.”  Intelligent, beautifully acted, and riotously funny at times, it grabs us in the first frame; We become spectators to this family’s evolving drama with that wonderful feeling of  “What on this earth is coming next?”  A lot comes next, and it’s all good.   

            The adjectives “intelligent” and “funny” do not often pair up these days, but the combination is the best of all things when it happens.  And when it works, as it does here, you simply must put normal logic aside and roll with the mood created by writer/director Mike Binder.  You could shred this movie with logic, but please don’t.  Whether you regard his final surprise twist as a deft deflection from the ordinary, a determination to avoid soap opera, or an act of insanity, don’t waste your time being annoyed. 

The story:  Terry Wolfmeyer’s (Joan Allen) husband has run off to Europe with his lover, leaving his wife without money troubles and also without a father for their four daughters.  Terry plows into an enveloping rage that, along with a steady diet of vodka, nourishes her ego throughout the movie.  It is her anger, wonderfully displayed by Joan Allen, that stands in such high comic contrast to Kevin Costner’s Denny Davies, Terry’s sloth of a neighbor.

You have to understand these two.  Denny, an ex-baseball player, runs a second rate radio talk show and jumps at any chance to autograph baseballs from the enormous inventory that takes up most of his living room.  He is bored.  When he shows up knocking on Terry’s window just after she discovers her husband’s flight, Terry dismisses the languorous bore from down the street.  He persists, and she never relents.  When she finally sleeps with him, it is more in anger at her ex than in pleasure.  They do not so much fall in love as they fall into the comfort of the familiar.  He keeps coming back because he knows something will always be happening in that house.  He wants to wake up, and her anger does indeed make his days.

The family teenagers are wonderfully played by Erika Christensen, Evan Rachel Wood, Keri Russell, and Alicia Witt.  Kevin Costner, so often wooden in his movies, is terrific at playing a slug.  This film, along with his baseball movies, should tell him for all time that he is best as a lazy dreamer.  He plays here in perfect counterpoint to Joan Allen’s taut rage, and their incompatibility is the stuff of high comedy.

This movie is a sharp stab at the essence of a contemporary family dilemma, a premise that Hollywood flubs several times each year.  This time, Mike Binder has handed quick, funny lines to two expert actors who know exactly what to do with them.  Joan Allen and Kevin Costner hit homeruns with their roles.  See it quickly because you will probably want to go back a second time.   

 


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