I admit it: I had a problem reviewing this film, having just seen Sin City not 30 minutes before. Ideally, I would have liked to put some space between the films, but deadlines and time frames don’t always allow for the ideal. It was very hard to shift gears between the two films, and that may color my feelings about The Upside of Anger.
I did do the next best thing, putting as much time as possible between seeing the movie and writing about it, in the hopes of better crystallizing my thoughts. In the end, I think that this is a movie I’d like and dislike in almost equal parts, regardless of circumstances.
Certain things you may have heard about the film are undeniably true. Joan Allen (The Bourne Supremacy) gives a nearly brilliant performance, and, yes, Kevin Costner comes through with what may be not only his best performance in years, but possibly his best performance ever.
The film is generally well-made. Some scenes are very funny, and some are very touching. All of the scenes — even the most contrived ones — at least offer the illusion of reality. I believed in all of the movie’s characters, even while I had trouble buying the plot and writer/director Mike Binder’s multiple attempts to lead the viewer down the garden path regarding the identity of a corpse at the funeral that forms the film’s framing story (any of which identities would have worked better than the preposterous revelation he finally does give us).
There’s an inherent problem with characters who are merely believable — it doesn’t guarantee that they’re likable. Joan Allen plays Terry Wolfmeyer, a mother of four daughters who range from nearly to fully grown. She lives in upscale comfort in a Better Homes and Gardens home in a posh section of Detroit. Suddenly, she finds herself deserted by her husband — he’s apparently flown the coop to Sweden with a young secretary — and she plunges headfirst into a bottle of vodka. Perhaps that’s not an unreasonable reaction (certainly it’s not a unique one), but the film suggests that she’s long been a functional alcoholic, and that this is merely her “excuse” for taking the next step.
By itself, this wouldn’t render her unsympathetic, but after 20 minutes or so, it’s not hard to understand why Mr. Wolfmeyer might have left without a forwarding address. Boston Globe critic Wesley Morris pegged it beautifully: “You know this woman — her Mercedes has cut you off on the highway.”
And at the center, that’s what’s wrong with Upside of Anger, which purports to be a “woman’s picture,” but ultimately offers so much of a man’s view of women that it nearly becomes a kind of weirdly self-congratulatory misogynistic tract. Consider: Binder’s character, Shep, offers a viciously on-target assessment of Terry in a confrontation, and Costner’s genially stoned/drunk Denny gets to set her straight before the film is over, etc. Almost anything of note that’s said or done comes from a man – even from Terry’s new son-in-law, David (Tom Harper), and, in a really convoluted manner, the errant Mr. Wolfmeyer.
Binder’s direction is rarely more than functional. The one really clever directorial moment — Terry’s dinner-table fantasy — is so out of step with the rest of the film that it’s more jarring than successful. The Upside of Anger is not a bad movie — and it’s worth seeing for Costner’s and Allen’s performances — but I’m inclined to think that ultimately its intentions are less than honest. Rated R for language, sexual situations, brief comic violence and some drug use.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke