Film Fare...with Mark Moorehead
The Upside of Anger
General Audiences: B+
Terms of Endearment-type film about a grieving suburban housewife coping with loss, anger and bitterness as her kind neighbor tries to soften the blow.
Family Audience: Rated R
Definitely not a family film—adults only. Rated R for strong language, sexual situations, alcohol abuse and recreational drug use (marijuana).
The Upside of Anger, written and directed by Mike Binder, is a film about an uphill romance between two neighbors with little more in common than a property line.
Joan Allen and Kevin Costner play the role of neighbors Terry Wolfmeyer and Denny Davies.
After the disappearance of her husband, Wolfmeyer, a suburban housewife with four daughters, assumes he ran away with his young Swedish secretary. Her suspicion is reaffirmed by news that the secretary suddenly moved back to Sweden.
Feeling betrayed and abandoned, Wolfmeyer sinks into a self-destructive pattern of behavior that includes alcoholism, rage, bitterness and verbal assaults on her daughters.
Davies is an ex-baseball hero and alcoholic. He spends his slow-moving days selling autographed baseballs and presiding over a radio talk show.
He pays Wolfmeyer a visit with beer in hand and asks if she would mind if he shared her company. Wolfmeyer acquiesces with cool indifference and they soon become regular drinking buddies.
Between drinks, however, they argue, separate, kiss and make up. It’s a roller coaster of a relationship that never truly jells. She doesn’t want pity and is too bitter to begin a serious relationship with any man, least of all a beer-toting ex-jock neighbor.
Joan Allen is superb in her role as the jilted matriarch coping poorly with her husband’s disappearance. As the female protagonist Allen wears a stern face throughout most of the film, telescoping anger so intense you think she was the origin for the expression “if looks could kill.”
Yet she also captures the softer and more complex side of her intimidating character by changing emotional gears faster than a NASCAR driver. In one scene she insults Denny, then a minute later offers to go to bed with him.
He’s so confused by her abrupt change of heart that he hides when she arrives at his house. When he finally appears, Denny apologizes for scorning Wolfmeyer’s offer of sexual intimacy, suggesting a rain check.
Her response: “This opportunity is like Haley’s Comet: you’re not going to see it for another 57 years.”
Wolfmeyer’s daughters become more independent during a three-year healing process, choosing to follow new careers without their mother’s approval.
Feeling a loss of control, mother dearest rejects their decisions while gulping vodka. Predictably, her anger and alcoholism undermine her authority, alienating all four girls. For example, when daughter Andy (Erika Christensen) announces she’s forsaking college in favor of immediate employment at the local radio station, mom pounces on her exclaiming, “Oh, no young lady, you’re going to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and that’s that”.
Andy simply ignores the protest and heads off to work.
Another daughter, Hadley (Keri Russell), wants to be a ballerina. She’s quiet, timid, stressed out and the one daughter most affected by the loss of her father. Her mother dismisses a career in ballet as totally unrealistic, pushing Hadley’s fragile emotional state over the edge and sending her to the hospital.
Wolfmeyer can’t seem to get out of the attack mode whenever she sees something she doesn’t like. On impulse, in a surge of consciousness, she insults loved ones and strangers, then later genuinely regrets her behavior. The only one unaffected by this wounded animal is the cool, calm and forgiving Denny.
Kevin Costner delivers his best performance in years in the role of affable Denny, portraying charm, humor and a relaxed demeanor.
He has perfected the character of a carefree, likeable jock without being cliché, thanks to his previous roles in Bull Durham, Field of Dreams and Tin Cup.
And, his slightly mentally challenged, easy-going nature operates as a welcome counterweight to the angry, high strung, opinionated Wolfmeyer. You can’t help but laugh whenever he shrugs off an insult or offers words of wisdom like, “You’ll recover emotionally; you’ll just walk with a limp”.
Denny hangs around the Wolfmeyer house long enough to become a surrogate dad of sorts to the girls, and in the process transforms an angry housewife into a good friend.