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Upside of Anger, The

 

Rating: R

Distributor: New Line Home Entertainment

Release Date: July 26, 2005
Review posted: July 27, 2005

 

Reviewed by Rachel Sexton

 

SYNOPSIS

 

Terry Wolfmeyer (Joan Allen) gets angry and aggressive after her husband leaves but the lives of her four daughters (Keri Russell, Erika Christensen, Alicia Witt, and Evan Rachel Wood) and a new romance with neighbor and ex-ballplayer Denny (Kevin Costner) slowly provide the salve.

 

CRITIQUE

 

The term dramedy to describe films has always felt a little dubious to me. Most films have some funny bit or moments, so should the two opposing genres be combined in a descriptor? However, especially lately, films have appeared that can truly only be described in that way. Moreover, they often provide memorable viewing experiences. This film is one of them. The Upside of Anger is a well-written, smoothly directed, and affecting film with excellent performances from the leads and support.

 

Mike Binder (HBO’s The Mind of the Married Man) wrote and takes a supporting role here aside from directing. As the extras point out more than once, while acting together in The Contender, Allen suggested Binder write her a comedy and Terry Wolfmeyer is a perfect fit for Allen. Binder manages to craft a character who is funny (especially when drunk) but also unlikeable (especially when angry). The journey of Terry to someone likeable again is the focus of the film and the subplots, including the wedding of one daughter and the illness of another, gird that up well. The romance with Denny is the central component of that, though, and despite the copious drinking, the audience can tell that something real is going on between them.


In Costner's hands, Denny is always a good guy and suggests more layers than one film can show. As good as Allen is, Costner must carry the likeability through most of the film until Terry as a character does grow out of her anger. A lot of Costner and Allen's scenes together make you smile, like when he catches her as she gets out of the shower and the scene where he kicks a door down to tell her enough is enough.

 

Binder as a director is as solid as he is as a writer. Terry has three daydream sequences in the film. The first is a little incongruously violent but the other two go a long way to demonstrating the character's healing. Fade out transitions and good staging compliment Binder's elegant camera work. Depth of field and good compositions make the cinematography stand out as well. You would also never know that London is standing in for suburban Detroit. The sets and real locations give good settings and the costuming is excellent. The music can be a little melodramatic at moments.

 

Binder also isn't a bad actor, as he makes Denny's producer Shep quite funny. The four daughters are all solid actresses, the best being Russell, who gets the most emotional scenes and gets to show off her dancing ability. (If you like these scenes, check out Russell in Mad About Mambo.)  Finally, one of the most memorable things about this film is the end, which is refreshingly unpredictable and effective much like the film itself.


THE VIDEO

 

Binder's nice and polished visuals are finely transferred to the small screen in this anamorphic widescreen presentation. The picture looks very good with smooth detail and sharp, bright colors.


THE AUDIO

 

Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound and stereo surround are both offered here, compensating or the fact that the soundtrack volume overall is a little low. There are no other language tracks but English and Spanish subtitles are available.


THE EXTRAS

 

Behind the Scenes Featurette: This approximately half-hour featurette is one of the best of its kind I have seen in a long while. Very little clips are used, allowing more time for interviews from cast and crew covering interesting discussion of the usual things like locations, the director, and the film's premiere at Sundance. Best of all, though, is the inclusion of a film critic's discussion of the film, shedding light on Binder's previous work and other things like performances. This is definitely a featurette to watch.

 

Audio Commentary: Binder and Allen join for a very good track, moderated by filmmaker Rod Lurie, who directed them both in The Contender and is a former film critic. Lurie is actually a good addition because he continuously points out things viewers might not notice, such as the fact that in the scenes opening films, the family doesn't touch each other. They cover the usual things and even though they overlap each other sometimes and Allen frequently just agrees with whatever has been said, Lurie goes for the deeper stuff.

 

Deleted Scenes: Eight scenes are offered here, with optional commentary from Binder. These are good overall, fitting in with the tone of the finished film for the most part. Only the final dream sequence feels incongruous. Binder also provides some typical but interesting reasons why these scenes got cut.

 

Finally, there is also the theatrical trailer.


FINAL THOUGHTS

 

The Upside of Anger boasts good writing and directing as well as superior performances from Joan Allen, Kevin Costner, and the supporting cast. This is a film of genuine emotion that many will find effective. The DVD presentation is heightened by good bonus features. For a rental or a buy, The Upside of Anger is not a bad choice at all.

 

VERDICT: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 

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:: DVD Ratings

 

THE MOVIE

8

THE VIDEO

10

THE AUDIO

9

THE EXTRAS

8

OVERALL

8

 

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