The Upside Of Anger

on March 11, 2005 by Annlee Ellingson
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It is immediately clear how writer/director Mike Binder managed to assemble his impressive cast--including Joan Allen in a role written expressly for her; Kevin Costner, revisiting his turns in "Bull Durham," "Field of Dreams" and "For Love of the Game"; and four-to-watch Erika Christensen, Evan Rachel Wood, Keri Russell and Alicia Witt--for "The Upside of Anger." His script is replete with keen observations ranging from the titular theme of the destructive power of misplaced anger to why middle-aged men don't date women their own age ("Younger girls are nice") to how a broken heart heals funny and might give one a metaphorical limp. Unfortunately, despite predictably fine performances all around, the overall effect of the film is hampered by poor directorial execution and an act-three plot twist that defies plausibility.

Abrupt abandonment by her husband has transformed the nicest, sweetest woman one will ever meet (although there's no evidence in the film to support this claim) into an angry, bitter, sad drunk. Left to raise her four nearly grown daughters on her own, suburban housewife Terry Wolfmeyer (Allen) starts to pal around with her next-door neighbor Denny (Costner), a baseball has-been who ekes out a living by signing baseball memorabilia and hosting a radio talk show in which he talks about everything but baseball. Complicating matters is that their romantic entanglement is not the only one in the household.

Although experienced behind the camera--his oeuvre includes HBO's "The Mind of the Married Man"--Binder makes the rookie mistake of lingering too long on meaningful nods or forced laughter after particularly poignant moments. And composer Alexandre Desplat's attempt to give the tragedy a comic edge with incongruent circus-like music doesn't quite work. Finally, the film culminates with a reveal as to the patriarch's whereabouts that, even if you want to buy into it given the overall potential of the project, is simply too problematic. Starring Joan Allen, Kevin Costner, Erika Christensen, Evan Rachel Wood, Keri Russell and Alicia Witt. Directed and written by Mike Binder. Produced by Alex Gartner, Jack Binder and Sammy Lee. A New Line release. Drama. Rated R for language, sexual situations, brief comic violence and some drug use. Running time: 116 min

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