The Upside Of Anger


Reviewed by: The Exile

The Upside Of Anger
"Whatever mommie issues American filmmakers are dragging around these days, seeing them worked out on our movie screens is becoming something of a chore."

Whatever mommie issues American filmmakers are dragging around these days, seeing them worked out on our movie screens is becoming something of a chore. In recent months we’ve observed Téa Leonie in Spanglish and Sigourney Weaver in Imaginary Heroes selfishly obsess over their own miseries, while their neglected offspring bond with others, or simply kill themselves. After suffering through Joan Allen’s travails in The Upside Of Anger, I may join them.

Writer/director Mike Binder—the still-at-large perpetrator of HBO’s excruciating Mind Of A Married Man—wrote the film for Allen, a superb actress of such prominent intelligence and aggressive bone structure few leading men will climb into bed with her. Distracted by her fierce cheekbones and regal bearing, directors like to thrust her into asexual, steely roles like Pat Nixon in Nixon, or Elizabeth Proctor in The Crucible. Meanwhile her sensuality, difficult to extract, is often falsely presumed missing (if in doubt, see her smoldering turn in Sally Potter’s upcoming political romance, Yes).

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The character of Terry Wolfmeyer, abandoned spouse and brittle mother to four teenage daughters, is another depressing example of a director playing to the surface with neither the wit nor the skill to delve deeper. Allen tackles Terry with everything she’s got and it’s to her credit that the character becomes more than the script demands: not just angry about her husband’s defection—to Sweden, with his assistant, Terry believes—but also fearful, insecure and jealous of her daughters’ unexplored lives. Her gaunt frame, draped in an assortment of chiffon nighties, Terry staggers around her suburban Detroit home alternately sucking on a bottle of Grey Goose and a succession of soggy Marlboros. In the kitchen, her self-sufficient daughters—all solid young actresses playing one-note characters—plot a variety of rebellions, including attending ballet school (Keri Russell) and becoming a baby machine (Alicia Witt).

Awash in fury and self-pity, Terry barely notices when retired baseball hero Denny Davies (Kevin Costner, returning to the fictional profession that’s been most lucrative for him) starts sniffing around. An ex-Detroit Tiger with a mediocre radio show and a sideline selling autographed balls, Denny is permanently sloshed and hence immune to Terry’s bipolar mood swings. (And there’s something undeniably comic in the sight of Allen, all elbows and collarbone, being romanced by the soft-bellied, cushiony Costner.) But Denny is simply Terry’s soft place to fall: lodged on her couch beside the family dog, he’s as troublesome to expel as an infestation of fleas.

Decorated with ethereal voiceovers supplied by youngest daughter, Popeye (Evan Rachel Wood, bearing no visible resemblance to Gene Hackman), The Upside Of Anger suffers from more than just a God-awful title. Arriving in the midst of a crop of recent American film festival favorites—The Ballad Of Jack And Rose, Melinda And Melinda, as well as Imaginary Heroes—it has become painfully clear that homegrown filmmakers need to get their heads out of their navels. The inability of American film to look beyond its shores and familial difficulties is becoming increasingly stifling and solipsistic. Compared with the astonishing variety of topics addressed by foreign filmmakers in works like Head-On (Germany), Walk On Water (Israel), and the superb Nobody Knows (Japan), The Upside Of Anger is just American Beauty lite—another day, another kitchen sink.

Reviewed on: 22 Jan 2007
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Deflecting the fury of a woman scorned with frequent showers, Bloody Marys and a little light humour.
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Angus Wolfe Murray ***1/2

Director: Mike Binder

Writer: Mike Binder

Starring: Joan Allen, Kevin Costner, Erika Christensen, Keri Russell, Alicia Witt, Evan Rachel Wood, Mike Binder, Tom Harper, Dane Christensen, Danny Webb, Magdalena Manville

Year: 2005

Runtime: 118 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US, Germany, UK


Sundance 2005

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