Terry Wolfmeyer's (Joan Allen) life is thrown into turmoil when her husband, in the throes of an apparent mid-life crisis, suddenly runs off with his secretary. Terry cloaks herself in a mantle of bitterness, and seeks solace in a bottle, further alienating her daughters in the process. In spite of her dark demeanor (or possibly because of it) Terry starts spending time with her new drinking buddy Denny Davies (Kevin Costner) the washed up baseball player next door. As time passes, their relationship evolves beyond "friends with privileges" and Denny slowly insinuates himself into the family. Just when Terry's world is once again approaching normalcy, fate throws her for another loop.
Okay, I've got her, now run!
In movies, the portrayal of couples in crisis follows a standard formula: the disaffected pair spend most of their onscreen time screaming at one another before they move on to the inevitable split. Each partner spends the requisite amount of time grieving over the break (a couple of months if the break was especially devastating), then rebound, begin life anew and end up being friends. Reality however isn't so cut and dried: one or both parties (not to mention children) are often rendered emotional cripples for years or decades, civility is the best case scenario and they find themselves incapable of getting back on the relationship horse. Mike Binder's ('The Mind of the Married Man') screenplay provides a window into that pain.
Joan Allen rarely disappoints, rising above even the most pedestrian script. When she has a good script, you get Terry: Allen turns what could have been a one-dimensional stereotype into a fully realized member of the walking wounded. Terry’s recovery period is glacially slow and she lashes out at those around her, displaying an impressive array of anger in the process -– Allen expresses more in a piercing glare than most actors could with a paragraph of dialogue and simultaneously reveals the vulnerability beneath Terry’s icy veneer. Costner meanwhile resuscitates his flagging career with an earthy carefree performance as a hard drinking flailing has-been (what is it with him and baseball players?) grasping for a last shot at happiness. Costner appears more relaxed than he has in years, and exudes a playful charm. The palpable chemistry between Allen and Costner sparks throughout their evolving relationship and sustain the film's momentum even during the occasional dips.
Erika Christensen, Evan Rachel Wood, and Keri Russell shine as the put upon Wolfmeyer brood. Each is afforded the opportunity to prove their mettle in the face of Terry's vitriol, and emerges revitalized and relatively unscathed. It is Alicia Witt however, who stands out as the eldest daughter, exuding steely determination as her character withstands Terry’s repeated onslaughts. Finally, Binder, a triple threat as writer, director and cast member, which I'm sure had nothing to do with his desire to frolic around with Erika Christensen <wink> is convincingly slimy as the grizzled middle-aged Svengali dating one of Terry's daughters. Binder's character provides the film’s most squirm inducing moments.
'The Upside of Anger' could easily have degenerated into a movie of the week. Thankfully, clever writing, a collection of outstanding performances and an interesting twist elevate it beyond the typical relationship fare. In summary, this is a great film.