The Upside of Anger Review
By Joe Lozito
With the possible exception of "For Love of the Game", casting Kevin Costner as a sports hero is a sure thing. Of course, now that the actor is getting on in years, those roles are a little tougher to justify, but "The Upside of Anger" finds Mr. Costner back in fine form as Denny Davies, retired Hall of Fame pitcher turned radio talk show host. Denny is like a possible alternate reality for Mr. Costner's character from "Bull Durham", the sports film against which all his other sports films are destined to be compared, if that character weren't a catcher and hadn't met Susan Sarandon.
But "Upside" isn't about Denny. To crib from "The Brady Bunch", this is the story of a girl named Terry (Joan Allen) who was bringing up four very lovely girls. And that's where writer-director Mike Binder's stubbornly slow slice-of-life drama lost me. Since Terry is a bitter, sharp-tongued functioning alcoholic, it's hard to imagine how the four girls ended up so ridiculously well-adjusted. There's one line referencing a past in which Terry "used to be happy", but that's about it. Otherwise, all we see is a cynical hellion tearing a swath through suburban Michigan.
Each daughter has her own issue to deal with: college graduate Hadley (Alicia Witt) is getting married, ballerina-in-training Emily (Keri Russell) has an eating disorder, the precocious, young Popeye (Evan Rachel Wood) - that nickname is never explained - has a crush on a homosexual boy and poor Erika Christensen's Andy falls into a completely preposterous relationship with a much older man, played by Mr. Binder himself. That's enough for any mother to deal with, but poor Terry also has to contend with the sudden disappearance of her husband, who has run off with his Swedish secretary.
Mr. Allen is always an engaging actress and she does what she can to hold together Mr. Binder's uneven script. Her scenes with Mr. Costner, who is beyond comfortable in this role, are the highlight of the film. But the film just doesn't go anywhere - and it does so very, very slowly. I'm all for contemplative human dramas, but the story and characters must move forward in some way. "Upside" is really just one scene after another of Terry offending those closest to her.
Mr. Binder gives himself the best moment in the film during a tirade in which he explains to Terry why he only dates younger women. The moment is loud and silly and real and a welcome change from all the meditative pauses and tangential subplots which surround it.