We’re wondering what’s ‘The Upside of Anger?’
After weeks and weeks of superficial diversions that included middling comedies, marginal ghost-fests and animated kiddie fare, along comes a film — finally — with something meatier on its mind. “The Upside of Anger” aspires to the craft of “American Beauty,” but with a chunk of “Terms of Endearment”-esque sentiment. We’re due for a film that examines topics like infidelity, alcoholism, friendship and family unity. Writer-Director Mike Binder (HBO’s “The Mind of the Married Man”) fuses these topics and proves he can write a funny line or two. The downside is that despite his lofty ambitions, Binder is so out of touch with reality that his film gets bogged down in implausibility and almost nothing feels real or rings true. True, few of the characters are what you would call likable. But even the most abrasive characters can be a joy to watch if they mirror the imperfections in all of us. Jack Nicholson has made a career playing such roles.
Actually, Kevin Costner is surprisingly comfortable to watch playing slovenly slob Denny Davies, a washed-up baseball player and neighbor of Terry Wolfmeyer (Joan Allen). The two become drinking buddies when Terry’s husband disappears and she assumes he’s run off to Sweden with a secretary. Allen plays the betrayed wife as an angry, bitter, selfish victim — everything you’d expect from a jilted spouse. But Allen’s unexpressive countenance and forced reactions remind us that the icy queen territory has been covered by any number of better actresses including Mary Tyler Moore, Sigourney Weaver or Shirley MacLaine.
Terry’s daughters are brought to life by four of Hollywood’s finest young actresses: Keri Russell, Erika Christiansen, Alicia Witt and Even Rachel Wood. The problem is that almost none of the interaction between mother and daughters feels authentic, and the holes in the script jump out right from the outset.
Wouldn’t any self-respecting wife put forth a little effort to track down her errant husband? The film mentions several times how much nicer Terry was before her husband left — but nothing in Terry’s demeanor exhibits a shred of likeability. So while the story demands we understand her anger, we instead sympathize with her departed husband. Watching someone battle an addiction can be inspiring, but watching Terry wallow in self-pity engenders apathy.
There’s more. Denny’s easygoing style can’t make up for his scummy appearance or lack of charisma. Terry’s sexual liaison with him, aside from being predictable, stretches credibility. Also, what’s with Denny setting up one of Terry’s daughters in a job with his womanizing bum of a producer, played by Binder who gives himself some of the film’s best lines, then being angry when the guy sleeps with her? Call me Victorian, but didn’t alcoholism go out of fashion as a comic angle along with marijuana and wet T-shirt contests? It’s treatment here is trivial and unfunny.
One point of note: The film does conclude with an interesting twist. It makes the audience rethink its perception of the proceedings, so much so that it almost redeems a story that has high aspirations but low intuition.
Rated R (Profanity, sexual situations, brief comic violence, some drug use).