The Upside of Anger
Review Date: 4.04.05
“The Upside Of Anger” starts out as a variation on a familiar theme, to wit, a man leaves the house for a pack of cigarettes and never returns. “The Upside Of Anger” tells the story of the people left behind – in this case, a mother, her four daughters, and a neighbor with a mixed agenda.
Before I tell you more, I want to urge you to see this film. Somewhat inexplicably, it’s not drawing much of a crowd, locally. Joan Allen, wonderful actor though she is, is not a giant name. But Kevin Costner, who plays the neighbor-to-the-rescue is a big name, and I’d have guessed that curiosity alone would have filled more than a few seats. But there were only eight or nine people in the theatre for the late show on Saturday night, and fewer still the second time I saw it. I would gladly watch this one a few more times. It’s such a fine, fine film. But without an audience, it will soon disappear.
“The Upside Of Anger” is billed as a romantic comedy, and it is often truly funny. But it’s also a very serious film, a study of the effects of a perceived betrayal. Humor is often the most effective coping strategy to deal with tragedy. But Allen’s character employs the numbing quality of copious amounts of alcohol to her acid-tongued arsenal of witty invective. She is really, really angry, and her wrath is sometimes inappropriately aimed at the closest human targets, namely her children, and the perplexed but attentive neighbor, played by Costner. I should add that the children are aged 15 and up, and most of the time, quite able to defend themselves in verbal dueling.
The film is narrated, sporadically, by the youngest daughter. But most of the story unfolds as we see it, unaided by the daughter’s voice-over. The actors who play the children are good, and Allen and Costner are great. These, I think, are the finest performances of their careers. And to think I’d almost given up on Costner. In fact, had I known he was in the film, I might not have bothered to see it. What a mistake that would have been. He’s natural, understated and ultra believable in this role.
He plays the part of a laid back ex-baseball star, who traffics in his former fame as a radio talk show host. He lives a few houses away from the Wolfmeyers, and in the absence of the pater familias, assumes the role of surrogate dad to the daughters, and occasional lover and full time drinking buddy of the abandoned mother.
Some critics have excoriated the ending of this film, claiming it mars an otherwise admirable attempt. I think they’re very wrong. Of course, I won’t tell you anything about the ending, but it reminded me very much of a theme in “Eyes Wide Shut”, Stanley Kubrick’s final film. In that movie, Tom Cruise plays the part of a doctor whose wife confesses that she imagined having an affair with a stranger at a convention. The very thought of his wife’s imaginary infidelity sends the doctor on a nearly fatal journey through the dark night of the big city. The point is that our behavior is often driven less by facts than by the imagination.
If you keep that thought in mind when assessing the conclusion of “The Upside Of Anger”, I think the whole film will make sense to you. And even if it doesn’t, you’ll have been treated to two extraordinarily accomplished pieces of acting, and enough good writing to justify the ticket price.
Don’t miss it.
For KUSP’s Film Gang, this is Dennis Morton.