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THE UPSIDE OF ANGER

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Joan Allen, Kevin Costner, Erika Christensen, Evan Rachel Wood, Keri Russell, Alicia Witt, Mike Binder
Director: Mike Binder
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: New Line Cinema
Features: See Review
Length: 117 Minutes
Release Date: July 26, 2005

“Your girls invited me for dinner. I think you know my position on free food.”

Film ****

Rarely have I seen a film that marries comedy and human drama together with beautiful ease. Writer/director Mike Binder’s The Upside of Anger is a sharp and incredibly observant character study focusing on a relationship that builds between two unlikely souls with similar circumstances. What’s even more special about Binder’s keen sense of the female’s perspective. For guys like me, this may be the closest we’ll ever get to understanding women and their needs.

The film boasts superb performances from a most outstanding cast. The heart of the film lies in the purely honest and touching performances from Joan Allen and Kevin Costner, who both deliver some of their best work, period. Also outstanding are the young females who each play a critical role in the story, as well.

As the film opens, Terry Wolfmeyer (Allen) is enduring the worst type of emotional wreck ever displayed. Her husband has walked out on her, leaving her the task of tending to her four daughters. Terry knows good and well that her husband has fled to Sweden to be with his former secretary. Her daily life now consists of waking up, drinking herself into a stupor and going back to a depressed-stated sleep.

Enter Denny Davies (Costner), a neighbor whom Terry knows only through her husband. Having intended on discussing the purchasing of their backyard property, which Denny wants to use to build more homes, he is shocked by the news. Terry simply tells him, “He doesn’t live here anymore, he doesn’t exist.”

Denny, himself, has seen better days. A former pro baseball star, Denny now hosts a daily talk radio show where he talks about every issue except that listeners would care to hear from him; baseball. He a heavy drinker, as well as a fan of pot, and is most of the time in a stoned state of mind.

At first, Denny pops up as a potential friend in need. Mostly, what he’s simply looking for is a drinking partner, since he and Terry are under the bottle about 80 percent of the time. Their relationship soon grows into one with periodic sex, which takes time to develop but does soon enough. Denny also happens to be well liked by Terry’s daughters.

As for the young females, they would rather not even deal with their mother’s high emotional level. The oldest, Hadley (Alicia Witt) is about to graduate from college and get married. Emily (Keri Russell) is at war with her mother over wanting to go to a Performing Arts school to become a dancer, which Terry thinks is ridiculous. Andy (Erika Christensen) wants to skip college and just proceed with finding job, which Terry is absolutely dead set against. And the youngest of the clan, Popeye (Evan Rachel Wood) is having enough trouble trying to click with a boy she likes.

Denny tries to help as best as he can with the young girls. His biggest favor is helping Andy land a job at his radio station as a production assistant. That only brings with it one repercussion; she soon starts sleeping with Denny’s sleazy producer, Shep (Binder), who prefers younger women to those his age. Needless to say, things don’t go so well when Terry catches the two in bed together. This is followed by a gut-busting visual gag where Terry visualizes something horrific happening to Shep at the dinner table.

For Terry and Denny, they soon come to realize that they do posses a need for each other. It is inevitable that their relationship will evolve into something more serious, with him becoming the new father figure to the girls, which is easy since they’ve liked him from minute one. Despite the strange circumstances that have brought them closer together, the two build a slow, but confident, loving bond.

And just when you think the movie will end normally, something is revealed that no one could’ve saw coming. This surprise takes the movie to a whole new level. The last kind of film one would expect to close with such a big surprise is a dramatic comedy, but The Upside of Anger pulls it off strongly and effortlessly.

We’ve know Joan Allen for quite sometime as one of the stronger actresses of our time. Her performances in Nixon and The Contender still resonate with me to this day. With The Upside of Anger, she may have delivered her best performance yet. Terry is not always a very likeable character, but Allen gets all of the manic qualities and frantic emotions of her just right. Although this film will be a year when the Oscars are given out in 2006, I can definitely see Allen’s name amongst the Best Actress nominees.

As for Kevin Costner, I’m happy enough with the fact that critics finally praised his work here instead of tearing him apart like they’re used to. In my mind, Costner made some good films in past years that for reasons of the inexplicable, all other critics trashed on simply because Costner was in the movie. The truth of the matter is, though, is that Costner gives his absolute best performance in years with a sharp and witty role that reminds us of the charm and smoothness that he displayed with the best of ease in films like Bull Durham.

With this film, Mike Binder, the man behind the brief but highly acclaimed series The Mind of the Married Man, has created a work of tremendous originality and pure delight. The observant qualities, mixed in with the brilliant work from Allen, Costner and the rest of the cast add up to what can easily be considered one of the best films of the year.

Video ****

This release from New Line boasts quite a marvelous and stunning anamorphic picture. The image is a consistently bright and colorful one, with a large level of detail in its every frame. Clarity is present in the film’s every minute, with both light and dark shots resonating beautifully on the screen. Colors are most amazing as well, even in the simplest camera shots. Yet another fine, flawless presentation from the folks at New Line.

Audio ***

The 5.1 mix, offered in both Dolby Digital and DTS, delivers highly in this presentation. Despite the notion that this is foremost a dialogue-driven film, there are periodic moments of music playback and added bonuses in the form of certain set pieces. A dinner table scene, in particular, offers the biggest bang of the presentation. And dialogue delivery is of the utmost sharpness.

Features ***

Included on this disc is a commentary track with writer/director Mike Binder and Joan Allen, with fellow filmmaker Rod Lurie (director of The Contender) serving as the moderator. Also featured are deleted scenes with optional commentary, a 30 minute documentary titled “Creating The Upside of Anger”. Lastly, there’s a trailer for the movie, as well as several bonus previews for additional New Line titles.

Summary:

The Upside of Anger is as mature and as original as any human comedy you’re likely to find. The outstanding cast and the vision of writer/director Binder have helped in creating an absolutely superb, riveting and surprising film.
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