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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Joan Allen Mesmerizes
by Diana Saenger

An angry woman and a drunken former baseball star find common ground together in Mike Bender’s poignant and sometimes funny The Upside of Anger.

Terry Wolfmeyer’s (Joan Allen) four daughters, played by Erika Christensen, Evan Rachel Wood, Keri Russell and Alicia Witt, wake up one morning to discover that their father has deserted them. Their mother makes no bones about her husband’s infidelities -- or that he’s a horrible person. As days go by with no word from their father, the girls’ concern about him turns to nonchalance and then a form of anger.

When Terry’s next-door neighbor Denny (Kevin Costner) drops by, Terry informs him her husband is gone. Denny detects the anger and bitterness she’s trying to drown with alcohol, but he can’t offer any advice in this arena since he’s also a drunk and a marijuana-smoking loner. Although once a great baseball star, Denny knows those days are over and is now a DJ on a radio show where he’s supposed to talk about baseball but ignores that subject like the plague.

Denny becomes a regular at Terry’s. While the girls take over the daily routines of keeping their life on track and fixing the meals, mom continues to fuel her anger with the bottle, never missing an opportunity to lash out at the girls and even at Denny.

“It’s a very honest relationship that isn’t based on love,” said Costner. “Denny is a broken man, too, and he’s willing to hang out with her.”

It doesn’t take long for the girls to like Denny and to enjoy the occasional laugh he brings to their dinner table. Denny even lands a job for Andy (Erika Christensen) as an assistant with his producer Shep (Mike Bender). Much to her mother’s objection, Andy and Shep are soon an item.

The Upside of Anger, an adult film that touches on a lot of issues, is mostly about misplaced anger.

“Mike takes this idea that sometimes we make a gigantic miscalculation, a wrong assumption, and we color everything in our life by that and everyone in our life pays the price for that,” explained Costner, who lets it all hang out in his unconventional role here. He even gained 20 pounds to become Terry, a man who’s aging and out-of-shape both physically and emotionally.

Joan Allen (The Contender) steals this film with her amazing ability to make Terry seethe with anger, yet in a second turn her rage into comedic moments with Denny.

“When I first read the script I definitely thought of it as a comedy, but it has very poignant parts throughout,” said Allen. “I know Mike wants it to be very multidimensional … That made it really fun to do the scenes because one day Terry is incredibly charming, and the next day she is tearing her hair out, then the next she is being a real pill. As an actor, I get to play a wide variety of emotional levels, which is great.”

Because The Upside of Anger deals with abrasive people, it can make moviegoers feel uncomfortable. The performances of Allen and Costner clearly demonstrate, however, that these characters are broken people, that any of us could be like them at one time or another, and that not dealing with anger in a positive way can have disastrous results.

(Released by New Line Cinema and rated R” for language, sexual situations, brief comic violence and some drug use.)

Read Diana Saenger's reviews of classic films at  


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