Always depend on the neighborhood drunk to come in and save an upper-class, tense family-unit from falling apart.
Terry Wolfmeyer (Joan Allen) can be considered a “housewife”, however, she doesn’t act like one. She doesn’t work outside of the house and spends most of her day cleaning, getting ready to make dinner, talking to her daughters, and planning out their futures, but she has an icy-cool demeanor that’s very stand-offish, and doesn’t allow her to take any crap from anyone. Good for her, but not good for her husband who has apparently left her and the family to gallivant with his young secretary in Sweden. Terry, as hard of a lady as she is, starts to breakdown, liquor-bottle-by-liquor-bottle, and finds it hard to adjust to this new life of responsibility and action. But once former Major League Baseball star, now turned radio DJ, Denny Davies (Kevin Costner) shows up at the house looking to get drunk with her, Terry doesn’t find it all that hard, yet, she still has to accept the fact that her husband may be gone, and may never, ever come back.
While family-dramas don’t really do much for me unless they’re totally satirical or as dark as night (American Beauty), I do appreciate watching a family-dynamic on screen every once and awhile. My family, for instance, is a bit weird considering we all do our own thing, don’t eat dinner together at the table, and just go about our day but still talk, get along (relatively), and enjoy one another’s company when granted. That’s why most movies about your regular, suburban-family don’t do much for me in terms of emotional-connection, but I’m always open for the simple things in life; hence why I liked this flick as much as I did. Much to my surprise actually.
Where I feel like writer/director Mike Binder’s script worked so well is in the ways he avoids all of the types of conventions we expect from family-dramas of this nature, and continues to just evolve its characters. Some are more interesting than others, yes, but most of the characters here are people worth watching, caring about and worrying to see if they’re ever going to reach their final-peak of happiness or not. You know that they can be happy, and have ways of being happy, but to see most of them go through this little raft in their lives makes you a bit uneasy to see and only hope for the best. Binder may not be the greatest writer out there when it comes to giving all of his characters dimensions and personalities, but the ones that he does get it right is with making you feel apart of the family.
For better, as well as for worse.
But like I was saying about the way he avoids all of those types of conventions, Binder doesn’t force-feed us characters that we should like and need to like, we just do, even if there are some reservations involved. For instance, try Denny: The dude’s not only a bit of a schmuck, but he’s bumbling one as well. Yes, his heart is in the right place, but it’s so obvious that he wants to bang Terry as soon as her hubby leaves her, it’s almost too much so to really be true. How the girls don’t kick his ass as soon as he walks through that door, day in and day out, was totally surprising. I knew I would have, but that’s just me. I’m a dick.
Like I was mentioning, though, Denny may have these problems that are more than noticeable to us, however, we don’t necessarily hate him, nor do we feel like he’s a reprehensible person that one could not believe Terry being attracted to in the least bit. He’s got a charm, he’s got a sweet-aura about him, and he likes to do good things, for people that deserve it the most. Sure, he doesn’t speak his mind when he should and how he should do it, but there’s still something sweet and endearing to this dude that makes him more than just that the wacky neighbor next-door that likes to do himself a little bit of drinking; although it is obvious that Binder likes to use that side to his character for yuks and chuckles, most of which fail.
However, I could also say that most of the charm and likability that comes out of Denny’s character, is mainly channeled through Kevin Costner who gives probably his best performance, post-Dances with Wolves (which isn’t saying much, but still). Costner’s got the shaggy-look, feel, and act down pat, and makes you feel for this bum, knowing that he could turn his own, as well as this family’s life around at any given moment. He just needs to put the bottle down for a second. And while Costner is great, no doubt about that, the one who really walks away with the show the most is Joan Allen, giving one of her best performances ever, among which there are many. How she did not get an Oscar nomination for this, I may never understand!
Anyway, Joan Allen’s great as Terry for the sole reason that she’s not afraid to be a bitch, while also embracing her age. By the time this movie came out, Allen was pushing 50 and while she still shows that she’s hot in a fiery, “I’ll kick your ass” way, there’s no hiding behind prosthetics or a wig with this character. She’s 50, she looks it, she feels it, and quite frankly, she’s downright pissed-off about it. And how could you blame her? Not only is she getting older by the days that go by, but her hubby of 20 years just left her for a younger gal, and most of her kids can’t stand to be around her, nor have a conversation with her because she’s so mean and nasty at times about the decisions they make and the ideas that they have, that they just don’t even bother. I don’t blame them, but once again – Terry is a human being, and you know that there’s something nice and sweet about her. Allen is great at playing-up Terry’s mean, cold, vindictive side that comes out more often than it probably should, but allows us to see who she really is underneath all of that anger, and make us realize that she was once a happy lady at one time, and can still be again. It will just take some time, that’s all.
The gals playing her daughters are also very good, even though it’s obvious which ones Binder cares about the most, by giving some more interesting plot-lines and more screen-time. Alicia Witt plays the oldest, Hadley, and doesn’t have much to do her, mainly because most of her time in the film is spent-away at college where she soon falls in love and gets pregnant, giving us some of Allen’s best moments in the whole film due solely to her reaction this bomb being dropped; Keri Russell is good and sweet as Emily, the one who blows off college for a life in ballerina-dancing, and while Russell’s good in the role, she was about 30 when it was filmed, making it a bit hard to believe her as a young, 20-something college drop-out; Erika Christensen plays Andy, another daughter who doesn’t want to go to college, but has more of a promising future ahead of her because of the job she gets at Denny’s radio-station, where she begins a relationship with a much-older dude (Mike Binder himself, in a surprisingly touching role), and gets a chance to stretch her wings as well, giving us the most interesting gal out of the four; and Evan Rachel Wood is once again playing the young, angry, and rebellious teen we’ve all seen her play, but this time, to sure boredom and angst as the youngest, Popeye (yup, you heard me right), even though the “love-interest” that they set-up for her gives it a bit of interest every time she’s on-screen.
Consensus: While a lot of the melodrama that plays during the last half-hour does kill some of the momentum the Upside of Anger had going for itself, for quite some time, there’s still plenty of heartfelt, emotional moments between these characters to be seen, especially because most of them are written so well and in a way that isn’t just ordinary, or casual. There’s meaning to the way they are, and it works.
7 / 10 = Rental!!
Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au