THE UPSIDE OF ANGER
* (out of 5)
April 1, 2005
Joan Allen as TERRY WOLFMEYER
Kevin Costner as DENNY DAVIES
Erika Christensen as ANDY WOLFMEYER
Evan Rachel Wood as LAVENDER “POPEYE” WOLFMEYER
Keri Russell as EMILY WOLFMEYER
Alicia Witt as HADLEY WOLFMEYER
Mike Binder as ADAM “SHEP” GOODMAN
Studio: New Line Cinema
Directed by: Mike Binder
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
“The Upside of Anger” is a film that is getting released bit by bit to the bulk of America. The folks in places like New York and L.A. have had their chance to see it for several weeks, and now it’s expanding to a wide theatrical release.
Of course, by now you’ve seen the bevy of praise heaped onto this film by critics. A word of caution: You can’t always believe what you read. Sometimes the hype is true, like for “Million Dollar Baby.” Sometimes, it’s not, like for “Closer.”
“The Upside of Anger” is a film written and directed by Mike Binder, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. You may ask, Who is Mike Binder? He had a short-lived HBO series called “The Mind of the Married Man.” He’s a completely unrecognizable, unbankable comedian that Hollywood loves enough to let him make movies. Seriously, you probably wouldn’t recognize him if he walked up to you and played a drum cadence on your forehead.
I had heard some buzz on this film, but it had several things going against it. First, it starred Kevin Costner (as a washed up baseball star… again!). Second, it also starred Keri Russell from TV’s “Felicity.” If the pure hatred and malice I feel for “Felicity” transfers at all to this film, I knew I would be in for a long spell.
Joan Allen is actually the anchor in the film as a woman whose husband has recently left her. Instead of dealing with this like an adult, her character sucks down every drop of booze in a ten mile radius and, frothing with anger, she alienates her four daughters. It’s a good thing an alcoholic baseball has-been (Costner) is there to be her drinking partner.
The trailers make this film look like a comedy, but there’s much, much more angst and self pity than actual humor. Sure, it’s attempting to show the perseverance of the human spirit, but the human spirit in this film is so drunk that it can barely walk a straight line from the sofa to the wet bar.
I generally don’t have sympathy for characters that can help themselves – in real life and on screen. I guess that doesn’t make me one for the art-house flicks, ‘cause all of those films seem to be about people who wallow in their own misery. I’d much rather see a film with strong characters who have a healthy amount of respect for each other. Either that, or characters who are so completely worthless, it’s just fun to watch.
“The Upside of Anger” is meant to explore the title emotion. And while Allen does a very competent job bringing her character to life, the character itself is just plain weak. For instance, in one scene, she meets her future in-laws after the news of her daughter’s engagement is sprung on her without warning. Instead of rolling into a fit of rage or choking down the uncomfortable dinner, she makes a total fool of herself in a public place.
I once dated a girl whose mother was a reformed alcoholic. We saw the film “Skin Deep” on a date, and she didn’t like the film because it treated alcoholism as a problem that was simply solved by not drinking. For anyone who has known an alcoholic (or any other person struggling with an addiction), things are not so simple. “The Upside of Anger” approaches rehabilitation in much the same way.
It might have been interesting to see Allen’s character actually battle her own demons and take control of her life again. Instead, this all happens off-screen, depriving the audience of the only meat in the story.
Oh, and Kevin Costner was in this movie. He was pretty much worthless here. Don’t even ask me to explain his presence. It’d be easier to build a working model of DNA in my back yard with toothpicks and cherry tomatoes.
I’d suggest a better title would be “The Upside of Alcoholism,” but I really can’t think of any upside to this film.