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Movie Review
The Upside of Anger


Director: Mike Binder
Cast: Joan Allen, Kevin Costner

uring the vast majority of his interview with James Lipton on Inside the Actor’s Studio, James Gandolfini wore a pained look and forced himself to offer more than monosyllabic answers. Finally, however, Gandolfini came alive when Lipton reached the naughtiest bit of Bernard Pivot’s questionnaire, “what is your favorite curse word?” “T” pondered for a moment before a rather devilish grin flashed across his face, and he said, “It’s a Jersey one . . . Fuckin’ Douchebag.” And without a doubt if you were to find the perfect description of The Upside of Anger director Mike Binder only through his creative output, “Fuckin’ Douchebag” would do quite nicely.

Binder’s two most known efforts before his new family dramedy have been 1999’s ungodly awful The Sex Monster and HBO’s biggest misstep not named Arli$$, “The Mind of the Married Man.” Both centered on a male character (played by Binder himself) who acted much like Tim Taylor from Home Improvement in terms of insensitivity and boneheaded overzealousness, except his interest was wild sex rather than horsepower. Both works also featured hideously written female leads and fell back on tiresome sex jokes whenever somebody realized that the stories were stupendously boring (which resulted in a dumb sex joke around once every other minute). Binder’s film and series just exuded intellectual laziness and self-congratulation.

"All I have to do is use the 'I believe in long, slow, deep, wet kisses that last three days' line, and she's mine..."

Well, Mr. Binder has evolved some since then. He’s moved on to include lush jokes and women-are-catty-and-emotional jokes as well. Unfortunately for viewers of The Upside of Anger, the shoddy writing that undergirds the shoddy humor remains thoroughly intact.

In The Upside of Anger, Terry Wolfmeyer (Joan Allen) is a well-to-do suburban mother of four whose husband has seemingly left her without so much as a “Dear Jane” letter. Terry, who we know has always been an extraordinarily sweet person thanks to the helpful voiceover read by her daughter Popeye (Evan Rachel Wood), immediately turns to anger and the bottle as her preferred coping mechanisms. Luckily for Terry, local drunk and former baseball great Denny Davies (Kevin Costner) finds her newfound state most appealing.

Denny is happy to play the role of drinking buddy/general companion, and eventually reveals himself to be more weighty than expected. Denny and Terry develop feelings for one another, while Denny also develops paternal feelings for the now fatherless Wolfmeyer daughters (ages ranging from 15 to 22 or thereabouts). His good-nature and steadiness (well, apart from the booze problem) provide the foundation for Terry’s rebound from her marriage’s abrupt conclusion. By the end of the film, Denny has exhibited such consistently angelic behavior that one cannot help but decide Terry is better off for ending up with him. The only problem being, one is hard-pressed to care.

Talk to the hand...

Despite the aforementioned complimentary voiceover, the audience member knows Terry Wolfmeyer solely as a contemptuous, defensive, and venomous woman who turns her failings and problems into verbal barbs for her daughters and only friend. Whether she is belittling her daughter’s dream of attending ballet school or calling Denny pathetic, Terry shows no signs of compassion. A collapsed marriage is cause for some misdirected anger, to be sure, but repeatedly (a graphic says the story last three years, damned if that was apparent in any way) giving one’s supporters a tongue-lashing is simply an inexcusable personality defect.

So, The Upside of Anger is a boring story with predictable jokes (e.g. people eating food that had been licked by a dog) and a cold, unlikable female lead . . . not a good recipe for a successful drama or comedy. Binder also throws in two wince-inducing scenes that end with spontaneous group laughter, just for good measure. But, proving the old chestnut, “Even a blind dog finds a bone sometimes,” the familial themes present occasionally produce a touching moment. Costner’s performance falls under the "luckily positive" category as well, though he basically reprises Roy McAvoy from Tin Cup and hands him a different hitting utensil.

The Upside of Anger is a pretty poor film. The script is astonishingly unfocused, hokey at times, and far too long. And despite the sporadic nugget of quality and the semblance of some sort of effort in his latest work, Binder’s career suggests, alas, that he’s still a fuckin’ douchebag.

By: Kevin Worrall

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Posted 04/13/2005 - 11:20:28 AM by markos:
 I disagree. The film is so simple, maybe it's evading most critic's cynical eyes. The script gets slammed because the peripheral characters get no resolve (the daughters are strictly set pieces). Well, that isn't the point of the film. The benefit of anger - and cynicism - is that it allows you to NOT be forgiving, responsible and kind. It's an important message in the pessimistic times of "Sin City".
Posted 04/13/2005 - 10:24:46 PM by Kevin_Worrall:
 If anger is the central theme, why is it given as little screen time as the unexplained and utterly rudderless story about Felicity's stomach ailment? But for the sake of argument, let's examine anger in the film. As Joan Allen first discovers what she thinks is her husband's flight from their marriage, she professes to be angry with him, yet her actions suggest self-pity much more than anger. What anger she does exhibit gets directed towards her mostly-innocent offspring. When she does focus her anger towards her husband and Mike Binder's schmuck character, she seems to be healthier . . . yet rather than explore that road, Binder the writer throws in the twist about the husband. His newfound state invalidates her reasons for feeling angry in the first place, thus mitigating much of the progression/regression she may have gone through. And this pertains to the forgiveness theme. Because of the husband's state she does not have to forgive his actions, and her eventual acceptance of Denny AFTER THE FACT does not hinge on her character's maturation but extraordinary external circumstances. Anger doesn't transform Terry in either way, because it's not allowed to run its course.
Posted 04/17/2005 - 04:08:52 AM by ESeguy:
 It's a valid review (I suppose...), though I found the characters extremely likable and sympathetic. It goes down easy, it attempts to present a little something different--I dunno. Perfect Sunday afternoon matinee material, I'd say.
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