“The Upside of Anger” is filled with poetic irony. Joan Allen from “The Contender” stars as Terry Wolfmeyer, a woman whose days are filled with copious amounts of alcohol and anger over her husbandʼs disappearance, thinking he fled to Sweden with his secretary. She is raising her four daughters, Popeye (Evan Rachel Wood “Once and Again”), Andie (Erika Christensen “Swimfan”), Hadley (Alicia Witt “Cybill”), and Emily (Keri Russell “Felicity”) and trying to cope with the budding romance between her and her husbandʼs pal, Denny Davies, an ex-baseball star played appropriately by Kevin Costner (“Field of Dreams”). The four girls are each different. Andie has already declared she is not going to college and Denny gets her a job as a production assistant on his daily radio show. She then defies her mother by sleeping with Dennyʼs producer, Shep, played by writer/ director Mike Binder. Hadley is graduating from college and already pregnant and engaged to a boyfriend Terry has never even heard of, despite the fact that sheʼs been dating him for three years. Emily is defiant against her motherʼs drinking binge. She studies dance and decides to hate her father for leaving while growing sick with the stress of living under Terryʼs roof. Forced to put her dreams aside, Terry goes for a more practical major at college. Popeye, whose real name is Lavender, narrates the story. She is seemingly the darkest of the daughters, obsessed with a violent video stashed on her computer and spending time with a quiet boy from school. The characters are exquisitely portrayed, each with a profound anger towards their father, and an honest sadness and resentment for their mother who seems to handle their father leaving in the wrong way. Terry is convinced that, “One of them hates me and the other three are working on it.”
Denny creates the humor within the drama, falling in love with the difficult Terry whose heart has turned cold in the wake of her husbandʼs leaving her. Denny allows her destructive behavior to continue, even drinking with her and challenging her every step of the way. Heʼs a breath of fresh air in her life, mainly because he doesnʼt put up with any of her issues. Allen and Costner are honest in their roles; their recognizable pain and chemistry are undeniable.
Terryʼs daughters appreciate the improvement that Denny has made in their motherʼs life; eventually she stops drinking and starts making them lunches, even though theyʼd be doing that themselves for years, and slowly but surely comes back to the warm person she once was. There is a very touching scene where Terry laughs again, finds the person she used to be, and maybe lets go of her own bitterness.
The actors in this movie know their roles well. There is the drama mixed with the comedy and smoothed over with a moral. Joan Allen is splendid, as a woman contorted by the bitter taste of being left by a man she had thought would love her for the rest of their lives. She is careful to tend to her daughtersʼ futures as she would have wanted her own to turn out. Allen is perfectly cast and deserves immense recognition for this movie; she is truly the embodiment of anger and confusion. Even as she is being a controlling mother, trying to mold her daughters, you canʼt help but honestly care for her.
Likewise, Kevin Costner, with his sly, boyish grin and impeccable right-on comedic lines and obvious love for Terry and her daughters, is playing his best role in years. Heʼs played a baseball star, but itʼs nice to see him somewhat removed from that, destroyed with boredom from the fame, and trying to step back into an ordinary life, wanting to forget baseball was ever apart of it.
“The Upside of Anger” is a lesson in irony and love. The end of the movie is a bit stunning, but brilliantly played off. Everything that happens to these characters leads up to the revealing moment where maybe they learn the harsh lesson that life is never ordinary–itʼs always filled with a bit of disappointment, a bit of catastrophe, a bit of happiness, a bit of self-revelation, and a lot of love.