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By Bob Westal | March 11, 2005

Terry Wolfmeyer (Joan Allen) is having a lousy year. Her husband has disappeared from her ultra-upscale Michigan home and is presumed to have run away with his young Swedish secretary. Her four slightly spoiled high school and college age daughters make constant, frequently accurate, jabs at her and her increasingly excessive drinking. In any case, the drinking isn’t doing much to heal her loneliness, anger and pain, not only at her departed husband but also at life in general.

Though Terry has a wicked sense of humor, the only other person who seems to want to be around her is a similarly drunken neighbor, Denny Davies (Kevin Costner) who wants to have sex with her and talk about a subdivision on her land, in that order. He’s a long retired baseball player and radio host on a slow downward spiral, but he sees something beneath the anger.

Written, directed by comedian-turned-auteur Mike Binder, who also plays a sizeable role as an inappropriate boyfriend to one of Terry’s daughter, The Upside of Anger is a comedy-drama with plenty of sharply funny dialogue and uniformly good-to-excellent acting. The biggest surprise is Kevin Costner, who’s gradually become an obnoxious, self-righteous presence in the mainstream movie landscape. Here, he delivers the film’s most consistently enjoyable performance as Denny, a deceptively easygoing ex-sports hero running away from life as fast as humanly possible. The solution to the Costner problem is now clear: Kevin needs to play more amiable drunks! As the ever-angry, ever over-the-top Terry, Joan Allen remains a national treasure and is a wonderfully overwhelming presence, but the film over extends itself in its more serious moments, so her most crucial scenes fail to connect.

Actually, lots of things don’t really connect in The Upside of Anger, which might have made a very good Showtime or HBO dramedy. The film feels fairly long, and it appears as if major segments might have been removed (the husband of one daughter and two of her babies both inexplicably disappear by the film’s finale). Perhaps because of all the cuts, or maybe for other reasons, it’s a film without a sufficient spine. There are conflicts aplenty – too aplenty to keep track of, actually — between Terry and her daughters, Terry and her daughter’s boyfriends, and of, course, Terry and Denny, but it’s not until the film’s end that a major plot revelation reveals the film’s real story. It’s a revelation that might have made this a really good film, rather than a reasonably intelligent timekiller.

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