"The Upside of Anger" is the worst title for a movie since "Attack of the Clones," but don’t let that fool you. You will think you know where it’s going, but you’ll be wrong. The film moves like a dancer, light on its feet as it skirts clichés. The characters surprise us because these people, and this movie, are alive.
Joan Allen plays Terry Ann Wolfmeyer, an affluent suburban housewife. She used to be happy, everybody liked her, until her husband skipped off to Sweden with his secretary. Now she’s on a constant drunk, slumped on the couch or lashing out at her four daughters. Once, the cords of her neck standing out in inarticulate rage, Terry even chews out God. The girls pretend to find this hilarious, but they don’t, really.
The young women are vivid and charming. The middle girls, especially, could use some parenting. Andy, Erika Christensen, wants to become a newscaster by skipping college and sleeping with a producer twice her age. Emily, Keri Russel, wants to go to a private school to be a ballerina. Terry always knows just the wrong thing to say: "Those new age arts colleges aren’t really college." Emily says, "You don’t care about me anyway." Terry says, "That’s funny, I was just about to tell you how proud of you I am. Well, I’m not going to now."
Into the female maelstrom, with his potbelly and a beer, stoned, shambles their neighbor Denny, Kevin Costner. He was a baseball star, but this is now his usual state. Terry has always dazzled him, but he doesn’t know what he’s doing with her. He’s just drawn like a moth to the glow he can see through the glass doors of her house.
Is there hope for a romance that starts as drinking buddies? "Some wounds never heal," Terry says. "Sure they do," Denny says. "They just heal crooked, and you more or less walk with a limp."
Career setbacks have given Kevin Costner a winning humility. He’s not afraid to let his easy power dissipate. So as his strength slowly returns, Denny becomes more and more handsome. And Joan Allen’s performance is a tour de force. She is in almost every scene. Like Renee Russo in "The Thomas Crown Affair," she is in the full, autumnal bloom of her late forties; yet she is as tough as steel cable. They’re going to remember this performance all year, and she’s going to be nominated for an Oscar.
There are belly laughs here, and a last minute twist that causes us to reevaluate everything that came before. I can see a million ways this material could have gone wrong, if it had morally condescended to its characters. But it is miraculously free of judgement. It has affection for defeated people who are so fundamentally good, you want to bet on a comeback. Maybe two people with a limp can lean on each other, and walk just fine.
"The Upside of Anger" is playing at Kerasotes Showplace West. This and other theater and music reviews are available online at wfiu.indiana.edu. Reviewing movies for WFIU, this is Peter Noble-Kuchera.