Quirky DVD Packs Hard Lessons.
The upside of being angry is learning life lessons and growing up as a direct result of letting go. The characters in The Upside of Anger have lessons to learn, growing up to do, and the need to achieve growth and peace within. None of the female leads have discovered that anger is like drinking a tub of bleach several times a day. Like bleach, anger is destroying them internally with its deadly poison taken in mass quantity. Even the strongest detergent on the market cannot cleanse the anger and deep wounds that exist nor fix their soiled sense of identity.
Joan Allen is Terry Wolfmeyer, an alcoholic having a difficult time figuring out why her husband left what she thought was a happy marriage and four daughters in the middle of the night. She has trouble controlling her four daughters (Alicia Witt, Kerri Russell, Evan Rachel Wood and Erika Christensen) who all have minds of their own. Each one is more complex than their mother and tightly wound -- until the yarn starts to unravel when Terry takes a shine to her quirky next-door neighbor, radio show jock Denny (Kevin Costner). Terry's daughters must now deal with their feelings about Denny's presence while facing their own problems and heartache, and, in the case of youngest daughter known as Lavender and "Popeye" (Evan Rachel Wood), first crushes and bold attempts at figuring out sexual curiosity.
The movie contains strong performances from Costner and Allen with a good but not special supporting cast. Evan Rachel Wood is often the standout in everything she does, and The Upside of Anger is no exception. She's quiet, funny, thought provoking, and listens beautifully. She also possesses great timing that some of the other young people in the cast lack. To pack the right punch, there has to be meaning -- be it hidden or not -- to the words an actor utters, and Wood seems to know this. A star on the rise after her breakout role in Thirteen, Wood has three more film projects slated for release this year with another three in production.
THE DISC 7/10
Quirky, thought-provoking and romantic.
PICTURE QUALITY 7/10
The picture, 2:35:1 anamorphic wide-screen, is grainy in some parts, but the video transfer fully captures the shading and contrast between shadows, darkness and light. The lighting effects for changes between winter, summer, fall and spring are crisp. Digital touch-ups around the edges of the film or overall are either not present or flawless enough for one not to notice. In general, this is as good a transfer from the original print one will find on a DVD. It appears as though nothing has been lost in the translation between the big screen and the small screen.
SOUND QUALITY 7/10
Sound quality is an issue here at times and seems to be at the highest volume when the characters are not talking. When characters do speak, the volume is too slow or the sound muddied. This is particularly evident when it comes to Evan Rachel Wood's narration. She speaks too fast and the volume is a problem. Unless you stop and restart the frames where Wood introduces and closes out the film, good luck understanding some if not all of it. The DVD is presented in DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0. Viewers are not missing anything with the DTS and Dolby 5.1 transfers.
The movie does not contain explosions or music that one can tell a difference with if Dolby 5.1 or DTS was the system of choice. Each format passes but not with high marks. The garbled narration and volume levels changing all the time is enough to drive one nuts. Although it's worth it for the sake of a good movie, Newline and Alliance Atlantis should pay particular attention to this problem when mixing sound or making a transfer from film to video. Something is almost always lost in translation.
No Easter Eggs were found on the disc.
EXTRA FEATURES: 8/10
Nearly every single DVD on the market has a commentary track with the director and or writer of the film. This movie has a commentary track that's actually worth watching and listening to. Director Mike Binder is joined by Joan Allen. This is not your ordinary run of the mill commentary. Former film critic Rod Lurie is the moderator, and he happens to be one of the closest friends of Mike Binder.
This friendship leads to an upbeat conversation as Lurie moderates and makes it all seem easy and breezy for all involved rather than stilted and stiff. There are anecdotes laced throughout the commentary but Lurie can easily shift gears to discuss more complicated matters and touch on Binder's influences and choices. Binder is forced to get honest here and tell us what he liked as well as hated about the film he crafted. He also reveals to audiences that he draws comparison of The Upside of Anger to Ang Lee's The Ice Storm, one of his all-time favorites.
Perhaps the best part of the special features are the deleted scenes. Typically, scenes that were deleted and wind up on a DVD as special features are nothing but things that ought to have been eliminated. In this case the deleted scenes raise numerous questions and take us into the mind of writer and director Binder. We see that this film was originally intended to be viewed through the eyes of Joan Allen's character. She has delusions and visions of how unfaithful her husband was and of scenes of his marital infidelity.
Another deleted scene shows the four daughters are seen sitting on chairs at social functions all in a row with each season passing and representing something significant. Off-screen marriage and the addition of offspring for some characters and scenes about moving one's car really should have been cut. We see that the movie was meant to be darker with a scene depicting murder but with the body of the departed coming back to life to scare Allen.
That is stuff of horror movies but it gives a better insight into Binder's ideas and final choices. Nevertheless, had these scenes made it past the cutting-room floor, this movie would not have held our attention nor had the same impact. In fact, they may have destroyed the final product.
There is also a 30-minute documentary on the film. Typically these features are nothing more than photos, clips and vignettes held together with scotch tape to promote the movie. Usually all you will hear is the same exact interview actors, writers and directors give to critics on press junkets. They have the routine memorized and always say something exactly the same but for variety in a slightly different way. Not in this 30 minute feature called "Creating The Upside of Anger." Fortunately, it includes interviews that are different and in-depth with feeling.
I highly recommend this film. While it's rated "R" in the United States, that's mostly for use of four-letter words. There's a lack of violence in the movie iself and only mild sexuality from an encounter to a bit of dialogue. Young people are seen smoking marijuana; others hit one another; and a violent scene from a video is shown; but parents are responsible enough to make choices for their teens. It should be noted that in Canada, 14 year-olds were admitted to the film with an adult guardian. The movie is mild compared to others that truly deserve an "R" rating.
In terms of social impact, The Upside of Anger may help breach certain conversations regarding the mother/daughter role and about where anger and obsession can lead you.
(Released by New Line Home Entertainment; rated "R" for language, sexual situations, brief comic violence and some drug use.)