Upside of Anger, The (United States/Germany/United Kingdom, 2005)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Now that Kevin Costner has grown too old to convincingly play a baseball star (even an aging Major Leaguer, as in For Love of the Game), he has progressed logically. In The Upside of Anger, he portrays an ex-Detroit Tiger whose life has deteriorated the further age has taken him from the diamond. It's an effective performance, but only a supporting one. The Upside of Anger belongs to Joan Allen (for whom director/screenwriter Mike Binder developed the project), and there's no way Costner or any of Allen's younger co-stars is going to steal even the most minor scene from her.

When the film opens, Terry Wolfmeyer (Allen) has been devastated. Her husband, Gray, has vanished without a trace, presumably running off to Europe with his secretary. Terry is left to care for four teenage daughters, all of whom are exhibiting different degrees of rebelliousness. Hadley (Alicia Witt), the college student, treats her mother with disdain and can't wait for her school break to be over so she can escape from her family. Andy (Erika Christensen) has decided that college isn't for her; she gets a job as a production assistant at a local radio station and embarks upon an affair with her sleazy boss, Shep (Mike Binder). Emily (Keri Russell) wants to be a professional dancer, and refuses to go to a traditional university. And Popeye (Evan Rachel Wood) is experimenting with drugs and wants nothing more than to have a boyfriend. Into this tumultuous five-woman household comes Denny Davies (Costner), an ex-baseball player turned radio talk show host with a "thing" for Terry. Despite his alcoholism, he turns out to be a stabilizing influence on the Wolfmeyer household - to a point.

This sort of "domestic drama" fits squarely into the "chick flick" niche, and it's evident that the film will be a bigger draw for women than men. The Upside of Anger offers a lot of smart dialogue and six nicely developed characters. The overall storyline is slight, and relies on at least one significant contrivance, but the movie offers enough in the way of small pleasures to be worth a recommendation, provided you enjoy this kind of low-key drama. There's nothing here (except perhaps the scene where Denny kicks in a door) that's going to appeal to those who are in search of a testosterone cocktail.

Aside from Allen and Costner, the cast is comprised of four of today's up-and-coming young actresses. All acquit themselves admirably, taking characters who are not written with much depth and developing them into believable individuals. Of the four, Alicia Witt has been around the longest, having appeared in numerous indie movies during the last 10 years. (She was also a regular in the mid-1990s TV show "Cybill".) Keri Russell, who starred for five years as "Felicity," is beginning to make inroads into movies. Erika Christensen appeared in Traffic before making a splash with Swimfan. And Evan Rachel Wood is best known for Thirteen.

As I mentioned earlier, this is Allen's film. It represents something of an unusual role for her, in that she is able to display raw emotion and a sexual side. (Allen is often cast in low-key roles.) Terry is a hard-drinking, somewhat unstable individual, and Allen never stumbles in her portrayal. It's also worth noting that, despite being surrounded by four younger, attractive females, the 48-year old Allen consistently comes across as the hottest of the bunch.

Unlike some movies in this genre, The Upside of Anger does not engage in male-bashing. Despite his flaws, Denny is essentially a good guy. He does his best to hide his streak of nobility underneath a cloak of drunkenness and laziness, but there are times when the armor shines through. The film features a louse - Denny's producer, Shep (who is also Andy's boss and bed-partner) - but he is not patterned as a one-dimensional villain. The film gives us a couple of scenes that offer insight into why he is the way he is.

Individual scenes shine, and every member of the cast has at least one golden moment. There are a lot of instances that ring true on an emotional level, and, although some of the material wades into dark and murky waters, Binder's screenplay never loses its sense of humor. For those who are bothered by movies in which main characters are lushes, it's worth noting that both Denny and Terry drink less the farther the film progresses. The Upside of Anger is a pleasant diversion sandwiched between the ugly releases of winter and the higher profile blockbusters of mid-spring.

Upside of Anger, The (United States/Germany/United Kingdom, 2005)

Director: Mike Binder
Cast: Joan Allen, Kevin Costner, Erika Christensen, Evan Rachel Wood, Keri Russell, Alicia Witt, Mike Binder
Screenplay: Mike Binder
Cinematography: Richard Greatrex
Music: Alexandre Desplat
U.S. Distributor: New Line Cinema
Run Time: 1:58
U.S. Release Date: 2005-03-11
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Drugs, Sexual Situations)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1