The Upside of Anger Review
By Shawn McKenzie 03/18/2005
I was afraid that writer/director/producer Mike Binder’s movie The Upside of Anger was going to be less than stellar. I base this on the fact that Binder executive produced HBO’s “The Mind of the Married Man,” one of the rare bad shows to come from that network. Combine that with the fact that one of its stars, Kevin Costner, hasn’t made a really good movie since 1991’s JFK, I was concerned. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised to see a touching film with some great acting. The ending left me a little cold though.
The movie starts with a group of people all dressed in black attending a funeral. We don’t know whose funeral it is for, but we hear a narrative from 15-year-old Lavender “Popeye” Wolfmeyer (Evan Rachel Wood), who explains that her mother, Terry (Joan Allen), used to be a nice, friendly woman, but is now a bitter woman who drinks vodkas nonstop to drown her sorrows. Terry is mad and depressed because her husband of 20 years, Grey (Danny Webb), had apparently left her and their family three years earlier for his younger secretary to live in Sweden. She is drunk and crabby to her four daughters, Hadley (Alicia Witt), the oldest; Emily (Keri Russell), an aspiring ballet dancer; Andy (Erika Christensen), who doesn’t want to go to college; and Popeye, who is the youngest. All four of the daughters have their own issues besides being collectively upset with their father. Hadley hates her mother (or at least that’s what Terry thinks) and has run off to a faraway college to be away from her. She is now pregnant with her boyfriend David’s (Tom Harper) baby and is getting engaged. Emily wants to go to college, but she wants to go to an art college so that she can study ballet, a profession that her mother thinks is a waste of time. She has tried hard to slim down so that she can lose weight, and as a result has become anorexic. Andy doesn’t want to go to college, but does want to get a job as a news reporter or a producer. Popeye is making a video project about violence and anger for school. She has a crush on a boy from her school named Gordon (Dane Christensen, Erika’s real life brother), who turns out to be gay, but she develops a friendship with him anyway. Speaking of friends, Terry forms a friendship with one of Grey’s friends, Denny Davies (Costner), a former pro baseball player who drinks just as much as she does (he seems to prefer Budweiser) and hosts a radio talk show on a rock station named 101.1 WRIF, where he ironically doesn’t want to talk about baseball. He makes extra money selling baseballs with his signature on it to pay for his alcohol. He originally wanted to stop by Terry’s house to see if Grey was interested in selling some land behind the Wolfmeyer house, but he begins to like her as a drinking buddy, which she agrees to as well, reluctantly at first. Back in their daughters lives, Terry meets Hadley’s new in-laws, father David Sr. (David Firth) and mother Gina (Suzanne Bertish), at her engagement party and promptly embarrasses Hadley in front of them with her excessive drinking. Emily lands in the hospital because of stress and lack of eating at one point. Andy gets a job working for Denny’s radio show producer, Adam “Shep” Goodman (Binder) as a production assistant (a job that Denny had set her up with) and ends up doing so well that she is promoted to producer for the morning drive-time show. Andy and Shep also form a romantic relationship, despite their big difference in age, and it doesn’t make Terry happy (she thinks that Shep is a pervert and imagines his head blowing up during a dinner scene at one point in the movie.) Popeye just seems to observe the rest of her family, and after confirming that Gordon is definitely gay, pals around with him a lot. Terry’s drinking friendship with Denny ends up becoming romantic, and he becomes the girls’ substitute dad, but as the years go by, she still wonders as to why Grey left her.
It’s almost a given that Allen is great. She proves it once again in this movie. What is surprising is how well Costner did. This was probably his best comedic role since 1988’s Bull Durham (no, I didn’t like 1996’s Tin Cup, the only other comedy I can think of that he starred in.) Most of the girls were fine. I really like something about Witt. I’ve noticed her ever since she starred in the CBS sitcom “Cybill” and she has been doing a great job ever since (even in some bad movies.) Russell doesn’t do a lot in the movie except get sick. Christensen is all right, but I still have a problem distinguishing her from Julia Stiles. Wood is also all right, but this is my first exposure to her. I never watched her on the ABC series “Once and Again,” and I never saw her two big starring roles The Missing or Thirteen, so she was able to display her talents in this movie for the first time (at least for me.) As for Binder, the actor, he did an okay job, and I didn’t absolutely hate him like I did on his HBO series.
While the movie overall was poignant, the ending left me flat. I don’t want to give it away, but it was kind of a letdown and it made no sense.
The Upside of Anger did prove that I could still enjoy Costner in a movie. It also proved that Binder could bounce back after starring in a bad TV show. While the ending might leave you angry, the movie in whole won’t.
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