The Upside of Anger

The Upside of Anger
Director: Mike Binder
Screenplay: Mike Binder
Stars: Joan Allen (Terry Wolfmeyer), Kevin Costner (Denny Davies), Erika Christensen (Andy Wolfmeyer), Evan Rachel Wood (Lavender “Popeye” Wolfmeyer), Keri Russell (Emily Wolfmeyer), Alicia Witt (Hadley Wolfmeyer), Mike Binder (Adam “Shep” Goodman), Tom Harper (David Junior), Dane Christensen (Gorden Reiner)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 2005
Country: U.S.
The Upside of Anger DVD
The Upside of AngerDrowning herself in vodka tonics after being unceremoniously deserted by her husband for a Swedish secretary, middle-age Terry Wolfmeyer (Joan Allen) is the bitter center of The Upside of Anger, a film whose goal to unravel the seemingly paradoxical nature of its title. This is, not surprisingly, something of an uphill battle. Working against writer/director Mike Binder, the creator and star of HBO’s short-lived series The Mind of the Married Man, is his tendency to slip into glib clichés and easy answers. On the other hand, he manages an impressive tonal balancing act between the tragic and the comedic, the sad and the pathetic.

Allen, shaking off years of playing repressed characters, lets it all hang out in her portrayal of Terry, a woman so resolutely angry and frustrated that she withdraws from the world, as if she’s a one-woman protest against life’s injustices. Slowly bringing her back into it is Denny Davies, a washed-up former baseball star turned radio talk-show host played with sublime charm by Kevin Costner in one of his best roles. Costner perfectly embodies Davies’ mixture of slovenly pig and sly wit. Like Terry, he is an imminently likable character despite (or perhaps because of) his immense character flaws. Both of them are rough and tattered at the edges, and part of the film’s draw is watching them dig through the garbage of their lives to find a reason to go on. It’s inspirational in a low-key sense; the triumph is in the details of their togetherness.

While Terry pickles herself as a form of escape, life goes on in her enormous suburban Detroit house (how, exactly, she maintains such a lush, Pottery Barn lifestyle for several years without ever having to go back to work is one of the messy details Binder conveniently brushes off). She has four daughters, who range in age from college to early high school, and each offers some form of resistance to further complicate Terry’s life. As she puts it, “One of them hates me and the other three are working on it.”

The oldest daughter, college-age Hadley (Alicia Witt), is Terry’s inverse -- calm, cool, and resolutely independent -- which is why they get along the least. High school senior Andy (Erika Christensen), the most beautiful of the bunch, resists her mother by refusing to go to college and instead takes on an internship at the station where Denny works, in the process becoming involved with Denny’s lecherous 40-something producer, Shep (Mike Binder). Emily (Keri Russell) wants to be a ballet dancer and is constantly refusing to eat; her pie-in-the-sky dreaminess is the ying to Hadley’s grounded yang. And, finally, there’s Popeye (Evan Rachel Wood), the youngest of the daughters who is constantly being ignored because she is only “a child.” As an antidote to all the bitterness in the film, Binder uses her voice for the narration, thus allowing her to filter the story’s tragicomic events through her idealistic perception.

That idealism is set again a dark pall that hangs over the film from its opening frames, as it begins with a funeral and then goes backward in time to explain the events leading up to it. In a way, this is a cheat because it establishes a sense of tragedy before anything happens; you keep waiting, especially as the film is winding into its second hour, to find out who will be buried. Binder supplies a genuinely surprising answer, one that few will see coming and even fewer will probably buy into. It’s not that the revelation is in any way inexplicable, but it’s hard to tell exactly what Binder’s reasoning is or how we’re supposed to feel about it. At best, it forces us to re-evaluate everything that happened before, thus casting Terry’s anger into an entirely new light.

Although Binder’s narrative moves in fits and jumps, lurching about over a three-year period, The Upside of Anger builds steadily and naturally, particularly in respect to the relationship between Terry and Denny. They are the heart of the story, and all the thunder and fury around them works to strengthen their connection, which has a special kind of natural ease and believability. This is largely because Allen and Costner are so good in their roles (his slightly paunchy bemusement is a perfect foil to her tightly wound bitterness), and they have the kind of genuine, unquestionable chemistry that can’t be faked. If only for them alone, the film is worth seeing.

The Upside of Anger DVD

Aspect Ratio2.35:1
  • English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • English DTS 5.1 Surround
  • English Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround
  • SubtitlesEnglish, Spanish
  • Audio commentary by director Mike Binder and star Joan Allen, moderated by filmmaker Rod Lurie
  • “Creating The Upside of Anger” featurette
  • 8 deleted scenes (with optional commentary)
  • Theatrical trailer
  • DistributorNew Line Home Entertainment
    Release DateJuly 26, 2005

    The Upside of Anger has the typically first-rate transfer we’ve come to expect from New Line. The anamorphic widescreen image is sharp, clear, and well-detailed, with excellent color and contrast. No complaints here.

    There is the option of either a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track or a DTS 5.1 surround track. As The Upside of Anger’s soundtrack is predominantly dialogue, there is not a whole lot of difference between the two tracks. Dialogue levels are a bit low at times, but Alexandre Desplat’s musical score sounds excellent on both, with great dynamic range and fullness.

    The disc includes a chummy audio commentary by writer/director Mike Binder and star Joan Allen, which is moderated by filmmaker Rod Lurie, who directed both Allen and Binder in The Contender (2000) and was thus responsible for their meeting. I like the use of other filmmakers on commentaries, as it allows for some counterpoint and also helps keep the thing focused. The commentary here takes a little while to get going, but once it does, it offers some great insight into the film. Before listening to it, I had absolutely no idea that the entire film was shot in London, which shows just how amazingly well some suburban neighborhoods in England can substitute for northern Michigan. Who’da thought?

    Also included are eight deleted scenes, all of which are presented in anamorphic widescreen and have an optional commentary track by Binder in which he explains why that particular bit was cut (most often, it was for reasons of pacing and story flow, although one scene in which Costner smokes out with the wedding band was cut because it just didn’t work). The half-hour “Creating The Upside of Anger” is a standard, interview-heavy behind-the-scenes featurette that goes into a bit more detail than most of its ilk. Also included is the original theatrical trailer in anamorphic widescreen.

    Copyright ©2005 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright ©2005 New Line Home Entertainment

    Overall Rating: (3)

    James Kendrick

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