Movie Review

 

The Upside of Anger

Production Company: New Line Features
Director: Mike Binder
Principals: Joan Allen, Kevin Costner, Mike Binder, Erika Christensen
Rating:
R (language, sexuality and some drug use)

By Gregg Tubbs

(UMCom) -- Fresh from making a big splash at the Sundance Film Festival, The Upside of Anger is an intimate look at a small group of people and one big emotion. Joan Allen and Kevin Costner give star-making, and in the case of Costner, career-reviving performances, at the center of a stellar ensemble cast in this comedic drama. But the real star is anger—that seductive, brain-clouding emotion that sends out destructive ripples from its source, affecting and changing everyone it touches. The Upside of Anger explores this with wit and humor, empathy and an ample dose of real wisdom.

Sharp tongued, Terry Wolfmeyer (Joan Allen) is filled with anger after her husband leaves her for his secretary and she is left to support their four headstrong daughters. © 2005 New Line Cinema
They say "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned." Well, sharp-witted, and equally sharp-tongued Terry Wolfmeyer (Allen) is filled with some hellish fury. Not only was she scorned, when her husband abandoned her for his secretary, but she was left holding the bag as well—four headstrong daughters to raise alone. As her anger burns, she fuels the flames with vodka. Clad in a bathrobe, and clutching a tumbler, she alternately sulks and storms around the house, until it’s apparent to her and her daughters that she is literally falling apart. While she swears to her daughters that she won’t trash their father to them, she is slyly pleased when they profess their own loathing of the man who did this to them. "How could you not hate him," Terry consoles, "you’re only human."

Things get more complicated when another man enters their lives. Their neighbor Denny (Costner), a once-great baseball star turned radio DJ, begins hanging around as Terry’s drinking buddy and free dinner moocher. But soon, this boozy, stray-dog neighbor becomes something more, and Terry and her daughters are forced to cope with a comical and reluctant romance, on top of their own tension and estrangement as a family. "I have one child who hates me, and two or three who are leaning that way," is how Terry describes the state of her family, over yet another drink with Denny.

Denny (Kevin Costner) is a once-great baseball star turned radio DJ. © 2005 New Line Cinema
Allen and Costner are a joy to watch, as they play these middle-age, unlikely lovers, looking to fill the emptiness they both feel, and perhaps wondering to themselves, if the other really has what it takes to fill their aching void. Allen portrays a woman hollowed out inside and burned brittle by the flaming anger and resentment she feels. Costner, who has not been this likeable and unforced in years, plays a man, who instead, has simply deflated. "Normal" life, following the high of baseball stardom, has left him with an emptiness of his own, and his scruffy good natured exterior can’t mask the desperation of a man totally adrift.

As they get to know, and love each other, we get to know a lot more about anger itself. First, anger changes people. Terry’s youngest daughter, who they call "Popeye", describes anger’s affect on her mother, as turning the "kind, sweet mother we knew, into a sad, resentful person." Anger also seeks to strike back, and when the cause of the anger is unavailable, anyone will do. Unable to confront her husband, Terry lashes out at those who are available, including her daughters and Denny, even though they don’t deserve it. We also see that anger can become self-sustaining, and self centered. As Terry indulges in her sublimely foul mood, she turns her focus inward, ignoring the feelings and needs of others. In her anger and resentment, she forgets that her daughters have also lost a father and are hurting too.

Terry (Joan Allen) and Denny’s (Kevin Costner) once boozy relationship becomes something more and they are forced to cope with their reluctancy. © 2005 New Line Cinema
On the surface, you might think that love would be the antidote for this destructive cycle of anger. But in fact, even with her deep love for her children and growing love for Denny, love alone cannot cool Terry’s anger. Anger’s most effective antidote is forgiveness. As Popeye says "Anger can stop you in your tracks!" Only by learning to forgive, can they get on with their lives. They must learn to forgive the man who left them, forgive each other for the things they said or did in anger, and they must forgive themselves.

So what is the "upside" of anger? As Popeye explains, "anger changes you, but it’s how you come through those changes that matters." You can come out with a better sense of how to live, love and cherish the time you are given, and perhaps even a better capacity to forgive. The Upside of Anger, is a film that is both furious and fall-down funny, with very little "downside" at all!

Gregg Tubbs is a freelance writer living in Columbia, Md.

This review was developed by UMC.org, the official online ministry of The United Methodist Church.



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