There is precious little upside to The Upside of Anger, an ungainly, frustrating drama that endeavors to airmail the middle-aged suburban angst made fashionable by American Beauty safely back to cynicism-free sitcom territory. Writer-director-actor Mike Binder’s screenplay is all thumbs, treating his lackluster setup as a mere obstacle on the road to self-discovery: Mom with four grown daughters loses hubby, takes anger out on family, finds comfort in next-door neighbor, comes to realize she is responsible for own happiness. Dishing out mock-profundity in similarly glib fashion, Binder puts every sentiment in capital letters as if he was reinventing Terms of Endearment. But if the movie is a graveyard for rickety family melodrama truisms that James L. Brooks wouldn’t waste his time with (or at least find some way to render at least partially convincing), it manages to sound a requiem for the full-blooded characters middle-aged actors don’t get to see much of in today’s teen-driven marketplace. As Terry, a housewife pickling herself with vodka and remorse in the affluent environs of outer Detroit after her husband ungraciously escapes to Sweden with his secretary, Joan Allen sheds years of frigid domesticity (The Ice Storm, The Crucible) to become a card-carrying MILF; she’s not a particularly convincing drunk, but at least this affectation (which the movie is unfortunately not interested in exploring fully) gets her loosened up, and Terry’s apoplectic disbelief at the generic nature of her resentment borders on satiric. The foil for her misery is Kevin Costner, taking on his most down-to-earth role in eons as Denny, a has-been baseball player that could easily be his Bull Durham character several years and too many beers down the line. Armed with an endless supply of Budweiser and the occasional joint, Costner is so convincing as the washed-up stoner who patiently ingratiates himself into Terry’s family dynamic that his performance occasionally takes on a documentary-like veracity—a past-his-prime marquee player effortlessly reminding us that charm is ageless. There’s a healthy degree of liberated self-awareness around the edges of both performances; the most telling scene has them breaking into a fit of post-coital laughter seemingly not from the events of the scene but from the dialogue they’ve been given to deliver, and there’s a joy shared between them that is more plausible than any of the film’s processed emotions. Even material as lifeless as The Upside of Anger can’t ruin their party.
- New Line Cinema
- 101 min
- Mike Binder
- Mike Binder
- Joan Allen, Kevin Costner, Keri Russell, Erika Christensen, Evan Rachel Wood, Alicia Witt, Mike Binder
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