Movie Review
The Upside of Anger
The Upside of Anger poster
By Scott Sycamore     Published February 22, 2005
US Release: March 11, 2005

Directed by: Mike Binder
Starring: Joan Allen , Kevin Costner , Erika Christensen , Evan Rachel Wood

Running Time: 116 minutes
Domestic Box Office: $18,761,993
This is Oscar-worthy material {for Joan Allen}, but she will most likely be overlooked due to the film's inauspicious release date.
I fear that the public will neglect this film because it is the kind of small, accomplished flick that gets ignored by the mass audience. To be sure, there are things in the movie that are supposed box-office Kryptonite: the high volume of females, both ratio-wise and vocal-wise, the melodramatic nature of the plot, and the independent feel. But they all mix together into a very sweet and fragrant stew, rather than a bowl of lumpy, milk-less oatmeal.

The plot centers on a mother of four named Terry Wolfmeyer (Joan Allen). Her husband, who is never shown, leaves her and their girls (Alicia Witt, Erika Christensen, Keri Russell, Evan Rachel Wood) to fend for themselves. Terry is understandably heartbroken and becomes a functioning alcoholic. The relationship between Terry and the girls begins to suffer as she directs more and more bitterness in their innocent directions.

Allen does a great job; her character's attitude is viciously cutting yet stops short of being abusive. It is this dynamic that allows Terry to maintain complexity as well as our compassion. But her main foil comes in the form of Kevin Costner's Denny Davies. Not only is Costner's character the true heart of the film, but Kevin's star-power is apparently the factor that got this movie green-lit.

Costner reminds us why he became such a big star, as he really can project great emotions (not in a sappy, crying-on-cue kind of way, but in a genuine, resonant, down-to-earth way). His character enters the lives of Terry and her girls and provides an instant ointment to soothe their husband-and father-less troubles. The full story comprises the interwoven events surrounding Terry, Denny, the girls, and the supporting characters in each of their lives.

I was skeptical when I heard that this film was a comedy-drama. But the film handles the two elements deftly, making both sides of the equation very convincing. The comedy bits are quite funny and insightful, and the dramatic turns are played in a low-key way without forcing excess emotion. Mike Binder proves himself a capable writer/director, with a real feel for pacing; this movie had me engaged the whole way through. That said, there are a handful of clunky scenes that don't help the film much. There are a few too many characters roaming about here, and not all of them get fleshed out enough.

Despite the plethora of characters, the main focus here is on Joan Allen. The movie was written for her (by Mike Binder), and she runs with it, creating a unique and entertaining character. She really is a fantastic actress and a very attractive woman for any age. This is Oscar-worthy material, but movie mythos says that she will most likely be overlooked by the Academy due to the film's inauspicious release date. Kevin Costner is also excellent in a role that turns out to be surprisingly touching. Seeing him bond with the new women in his life adds sweetness to the film that offsets the drama. All these things make for a truly well rounded and pleasant film experience.
Scott's Grade: B
Scott's Overall Grading: 417 graded movies
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'The Upside of Anger' Articles
  • Craig's review B
    April 2, 2005    There is wit, intelligence, and humanity in the way {Mike Binder} has crafted these characters. -- Craig Younkin
  • Lee's review B
    February 19, 2005    One of the things I admired is that the film doesn?t overdo its material; it is funny and doesn?t go over the top, and it is emotional without being sentimental. -- Lee Tistaert