UPSIDE OF ANGER, THE
When her husband disappears - presumed to have run away with his Swedish secretary - wife and mother Terry Wolfmeyer (Joan Allen) drowns her sorrows in vodka. Anger overtakes her life and she finds it increasingly difficult to cope with and relate to her four daughters. Hadley (Alicia Witt), the oldest, blames her mother for the family breakdown; Emily (Keri Russell) is stuck in her dreams to be a ballerina; Andy (Erika Christensen) wants to leave school early to get a job; Popeye (Evan Rachel Wood) is impressionable and has a crush on a boy at school. Terry develops a love-hate relationship with her next door neighbour, Denny (Kevin Costner), an ex-baseball star turned radio DJ, who starts out as a drinking buddy, but develops into something much more.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Writer/director Mike Binder heeded the golden rule of writing: write about what you know. He comes from a broken home, where emotions like anger were on show for the would-be young writer to experience first hand. But wisely, and as the title suggests, he doesn't go down the misery slope to despair, throwing his characters the lifeline of humour.
The screenplay rides on the pain-fuelled anger that motivates Terry (Joan Allen) after her husband goes AWOL, and the target of her fury includes his Swedish secretary, whom she blames for being left. Her four daughters are conflicted about how to deal with their emotions toward their now absent father, but neighbourly lost soul Denny (Kevin Costner) has no such doubts. He thinks the bloke must be made to leave a woman like Terry and promptly begins to woo her. This starts very badly, Terry's anger being all consuming.
Of course from such serious material comes the flower of comedy; Binder and his brilliant cast work over the script until its feels just right, taking us inside the Wolfmeyer home - and Denny's much more chaotic one - as the daughters grate against their mother and their mother grates against life itself. We laugh, but we also recognise it's real and painful and serious. The film's ability to give us these two emotions simultaneously is its great strength. Binder never plays it just for laughs, nor does he give us plastic replicas of characters.
Joan Allen and Erika Christensen, for a start, are as good as they get, and that's no surprise. But it's Kevin Costner's Denny with his scratchy beard, beer in hand and been there done that world worn soul lumbering into Terry's life that's the biggest and best surprise. He creates a Costner we've never seen, in a portrayal of a man over the hill and under the weather, who finds in Terry a woman he could partner - if only she'd stop being so damned angry, spraying her spite in all directions.
With a nice, surprise payoff, The Upside of Anger is a sharply written, insightful and enjoyable film with many layers.
Review by Louise Keller:
A bitingly well-observed story about the highs and lows of relationships and love, The Upside of Anger is a sandwich of warm and funny with a bittersweet filling, as it resonates with heartfelt truths. It's also a showcase for the wonderful talents of Joan Allen, who breathes fire into the role of deserted wife and mother Terry Wolfmeyer, whose life has reached an all-time low when her husband disappears. It must be that Swedish secretary of his, who left around the same time, and Terry is so angry that she can't think straight.
It's this premise that is the starting point for the relationships in Terry's life, firstly with her four daughters, as well as her slobby, drunken neighbour Denny (Kevin Costner). Writer/director Mike Binder who also co-stars as Denny's lecherous radio producer Shep, skews the story with a compelling balance of female and male points of view, bringing a natural shift to the dynamic. His Shep is the kind of skirt-chasing male everyone's mother has warned us to avoid, and Terry is disgusted when he seduces daughter Andy (Erika Christensen) after giving her a job as radio production assistant. Terry wants her girls to live life by the book, with a college education, and certainly not waste time on dreams like Emily (Keri Russell), who aspires to be a ballerina. Hadley (Alicia Witt), the oldest of the four girls, has a mind of her own, and that means marriage and children, while fifteen year old Popeye (Evan Rachel Wood) quietly observes everything that is going on, and finds the common link between herself and that cute guy at school, is the fact they are both from broken homes.
It's a strong cast all round with excellent performances from the four young actresses portraying the daughters. And the role of Denny is a departure for Costner, who is so relaxed, you could be forgiven for thinking he was at home with a bedside table filled with beer instead of books. Denny used to be a baseball star, but now he is a cynical DJ, who never mentions baseball on his radio program. To begin with, the only thing Denny and Terry have in common is their drinking. But soon he gets to like the smell of her house, which zings with life, unlike his own messy pad, which is like a shrine to the life he once led as a sports star. There is a hilarious false start to the consummation the relationship, when Terry heads over for a bedroom encounter, but Denny is terrified and hides in the backyard.
The Upside of Anger takes a close look at how hard it is to love and how difficult it is to say the right thing at the right time. How can one be the person expected of them? And what a magical moment it is, when you can share a moment and put yourself in someone else's place. The French put it simply, but succinctly, with the term 'sympa', and this engaging story about life and love lets us understand it.
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UPSIDE OF ANGER, THE (M)
CAST: Joan Allen, Kevin Costner, Erika Christensen, Evan Rachel Wood, Keri Russell, Alicia Witt, Mike Binder, Tom Harper, Dane Christensen, Danny Webb, Magdalena Manville
PRODUCER: Jake Binder, Alex Gartner, Sammy Lee
DIRECTOR: Mike Binder
SCRIPT: Mike Binder
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Richard Greatrex
EDITOR: Steve Edwards, Robin Sales
MUSIC: Alexander Desplat
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Chris Roope
RUNNING TIME: 117 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hoyts
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 12, 2005
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