Judge Ryan Keefer doesn't really have too much anger. Except for reality TV. And teen musicians. And green vegetables.
Sometimes what tears us apart helps us put it back together.
Terry (Joan Allen, The Bourne Supremacy) is stunned and infuriated by her husband's sudden disappearance, and finds some comfort in her neighbor (and husband's friend) Denny (Kevin Costner, Open Range). With an excellent cast and an interesting story by relative unknown Mike Binder (The Mind of the Married Man), is The Upside of Anger a vehicle worthy of Allen's talents, or is it just a recycled update of Steel Magnolias?
Facts of the Case
When Terry learns of her husband's disappearance, presumably to Sweden with his secretary, she becomes an alcoholic, name-calling ball of anger, where no one is spared, not even her own family. In turn, the daughters react coolly to their mother, and are often times embarrassed of her actions. Terry's youngest daughter Popeye (Evan Rachel Wood Thirteen) is furious in her muted way at her mother for how she deals with her and her sisters, including the oldest daughter Hadley (Alicia Witt Two Weeks Notice) who almost enjoys getting under her mother's skin, the college age Andrea (Erika Christensen, Swimfan), and the soon-to-be college student Emily (Keri Russell, We Were Soldiers). Despite the blossoming relationship with Denny, Terry still remains upset by her husband's disappearance, and tries to strike a balance between that and her relationships with her daughters.
In this film, which was written for Joan Allen by Binder, she has the opportunity to stretch her legs and run dramatically with the story. Luckily, both the story and Allen's performance are so good she gives the character a backstory before the first act gets going. She plays Terry as a woman who seems to have had enough neglect heaped on her by her husband and her family for so long that when her husband leaves, she finally erupts. She becomes a powder keg of emotion, especially in situations where tact would seem to be the rule. She finds out about Hadley's engagement after just having met her fiancée at her college graduation, and the shock of it all helps give Allen the chance to say some of the best lines in the movie. And when she finds out that Andrea is sleeping with her boss (and Denny's friend) Shep (played by Binder), the result makes for some great laughs.
While Allen does her usual superb job, there are some quality supporting performances too. Russell is very good in her role as Emily, a daughter trying to achieve her dream of being a dancer despite Terry's seemingly ambiguous feelings toward it. However, the real reason to see this film is Costner's performance as the retired baseball player Denny. He very easily could have phoned in a lackluster piece of acting, especially after reading the script and saying, "God, I've got to play another baseball player?," but he does a very subtle transformation during the course of the film. We first see him as a carefree, slightly overweight and eternally alcoholic former athlete, who refuses to talk about the sport that made him famous. During the film, he evolves into a generous, supportive, fun-loving father figure. In a sense, he's a stepfather, without all the awkwardness and silence. At the end of the film, when we finally learn of his reasons for not talking about baseball, we completely understand why, and amazed at just how close to the heart of the film he really is.
The film has been favorably compared to Terms of Endearment which is understandable, but I'd say it's thematically more along the lines of American Beauty, but not as dark. Two things to take away from the film are just how much of a waste of time and effort anger can be, along with the amazing transformation that one can experience when dealing with the aftermath. It's not your typical dramatic comedy, and that's a good thing.
The disc itself has a solid group of extras included on it. Allen and Binder are reunited for a commentary track that is moderated by Rod Lurie, who directed both Allen and Binder in The Contender. The three have a great time watching the movie and enjoying some scenes by each actor, and rightfully spend some blocks of time focused on each actor. Binder readily identifies himself as a fan of Woody Allen, and even recalls just how easy the film was to cast once Allen was attached to it. Among some of the production trivia Binder mentions is that Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under) read for one of the daughter's roles before it was offered elsewhere. There's also a poster of Costner in his baseball uniform from For the Love of the Game, given to him by fellow Michigan resident director Sam Raimi. Lurie was a critic at one point and lends both that eye and his directorial perspective to the film and provides some gentle moments of humor to boot and serves to complement the film. Aside from the usual production featurette on the cast, story and production, eight deleted scenes totaling ten minutes comprise the other highlight. Most of the scenes are pretty funny with the exception of a strange dream sequence, and the scenes have an optional commentary by Binder in which he discusses why he cut them. Several trailers, including this film's, complete the disc.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There really isn't anything of note as far as the film goes. Some people have said that the film's ending is a bit of a rip-off, but to quote Binder, the ending is "earned" and is no disappointment. The disc would have been improved by a commentary track that included Costner or the daughters, but I'm not crying over the loss.
The film is excellent; Costner's performance may be the most enjoyable I've seen in 2005, in a film full of outstanding acting. After you go see Revenge of the Sith for the fourth time, rent this one for some quality dramatic acting.
Allen and Costner are found not guilty as a result of their stellar work, and New Line is found guilty of mishandling what could have been a more widely seen film that should have earned a nomination or two, which I hope it still does. Court adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
• Commentary by Writer-Director Mike Binder and Joan Allen
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