There's an upside to Mike Binder's intelligent film about the torrent of anger one woman feels toward life. And depending on who you ask, you're likely to get a different response on exactly what that upside is. Easily characterized as a "chick-flick," The Upside of Anger deals mostly in the complicated world of relationships. My wife found it powerful and enlightening; I found it tedious and long. She yearned for more Joan Allen; I prayed for more Kevin Costner. And yet, despite our differences, the one thing we could agree on is that Anger packs an undeniably genuine, emotional punch.
In yet another robust female role, Allen plays Terry Wolfmeyer, a mother of four grown daughters who is consumed with anger after her husband mysteriously abandons his family. Terry's convinced that he's left her for his younger, more beautiful Swedish secretary. Paralyzed by her outrage, the only way Terry is able to deal with the situation is by drinking. Each day, from the time she takes her morning shower to the time goes to bed, Terry has a glass of vodka in her hand ready to drown her sorrows.
Terry's life is complicated further by the problems her daughters (played by Alicia Witt, Keri Russell, Erika Christensen, and Evan Rachel Wood) bring home. Their issues run the gamut from pregnancy and secret engagements to identity issues and sex with older men. And if dealing with her daughters isn't enough, Terry must also contend with her meddlesome, but likable neighbor Denny (Costner). He's a washed-up, former professional baseball player who spends his uninspiring "retirement" drinking, doing a thankless radio program, and hanging around Terry's house waiting for his next free meal.
Needless to say, Terry's got plenty to be upset about and she has no problem displacing her anger on anyone within an earshot. Anger is so well written, so brutally honest with the pain that Terry feels, that many times it becomes uncomfortable to watch. This insightful film is far from the feel-good movie of the year. But Binder knows this, and his smartly crafted script counterbalances the grief with numerous scenes of shrewd and sarcastic humor. Allen and Costner pull these scenes off magically. Their chemistry together is one of the film's biggest draws.
According to the film's narrative, the only upside of anger is that sense of calm one feels in the end after all of the rage has been released. For nearly its entire two-hour running time, we painfully bear witness to the devastation that comes with that sense of anger. Where the film fails is that we're never given a glimpse at what that upside is. Anger's final frames elude to that happiness, but the credits roll before we're part of the calm. Many issues go unresolved and we're left wanting more. Where's the payoff the narrative promised?
In the end, women may appreciate this movie more, but even I can see the upside.
The DVD includes deleted scenes, a making-of featurette, and a commentary track from Allen and Binder.
The upside of Allen.