Joan Allen is one angry mother. This much under-rated actress is a runaway train as Terry, a suburban Detroit housewife who loses her temper in a big way after her husband leaves one morning and doesn't return. She's mad at her spouse, herself, and the world and she's not quiet about it. Her rage is the epicenter of this film and the turmoil is both heartbreaking and hilarious.
Terry's grief and anger transform her into a semi-alcoholic shut-in, lashing out at anyone in her path. Mostly she spews venom on her daughters ably played by a quartet of up-and-coming actresses (Keri Russell, Erika Christensen, Alicia Witt and Evan Rachel Wood) and her good-natured neighbor (Kevin Costner). Her fury also liberates Terry, giving her strength and confidence to stand on her own.
Costner helps erase the disturbing memories of 3,000 Miles to Graceland as Denny Davies, a has-been baseball star and local radio celeb. His mellow amiability is a wonderful counterpoint to Allen's spring-loaded wrath. In many ways, this character has been dealt the same cards as Terry, but he has a much different perspective. Instead of screaming into the wind, he just goes with the flow. Denny is also drunk or stoned most of the time, but that's beside the point.
Writer/Director Mike Binder (HBO's The Mind of the Married Man) has crafted some truly refreshing characters in Terry and Denny. She's the mad-as-hell housewife and he's the only former jock who doesn't obsess about his glory days. They start out as midday drinking buds and as the relationship progresses, Terry helps Denny to mature while he gets her to relax and let go.
This film's subplots about the daughters spreading their wings with college, love and first jobs limp along, but Terry's main storyline is enthralling. Allen was one of the best things about last summer's The Bourne Supremacy and she dominates this flick. Terry is at times bitter, sad, funny and outrageous, but she's always real. Viewers will relate more to Allen's performance than they will to any of this year's Best Actress Oscar nominees.
Just so you know that the movie isn't an all-out hanky-fest, there is plenty of humor to keep things moving. A scene where Terry gives her daughter's suitor the evil eye may have you laughing until you fall over. Costner's good-hearted knucklehead also carries his share of laughs, especially when he finally gives Terry her due. The director even has a few moments in his small role as Costner's buddy, who has a habit of dating much younger women.
The story is straight out of Lifetime: Television for Women, but Allen's take-no-prisoner's portrayal and a sterling supporting cast elevate this material. Unfortunately, a sitcom-like schmaltziness does keep The Upside of Anger from becoming a steel-plated domestic dramedy along the lines of Terms of Endearment.
Some of the conflicts get resolved too neatly and none of Terry's family seems really upset over the dissolution of their parents' marriage. Thankfully, the actors and the script's occasional dark wit compensate for these weak points. They save the film from descending into complete chick-flickness. Allen's incendiary performance and Costner's redeeming role are definitely worth seeing. Plus, you don't want to miss that bit with the evil eye.
'The Upside of Anger'
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