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The Upside of Anger

September 3, 2007

As a genre rom coms(romantic comedies) is not something I really dig for. But quite often there does come such a movie, which I generally don’t watch with much expectations, and come out pleasantly surprised. The Upside of Anger(2005) is one such movie, I did hear a reco from my friend, but again I was not too enthusiastic about it. But I later caught it on Zee Studio, and thanks to my insomniac tendencies, ended up watching it all night. And I must say it was a movie that turned out to be better than what I expected.

The movie starts off with a narration by Lavender( Evan Rachel Wood), about her mother Terry Woflmeyer( Joan Allen). She starts off saying that her mama was not the grumpy woman, every one made her out to be, but in fact was a nice lady. And then it goes into flashback, 3 years before.

Terry’s husband has disappeared, and she assumes he left for his pretty former Swedish secretary. And this is what she tells to her 4 daughters, Lavender aka Popeye, Emily( Keri Russell), Hadley( Alicia Witt) and Andy( Erika Christenssen). She then meets her husband’s friend Denny Davies( Kevin Costner), a former baseball star, and now hosting a radio talk show, and drinking in his spare time. Denny is shocked to hear the news from Terry, and he slowly gains confidence of the family. Only problem is Terry’s family is as dystopic as it gets.

Hadley the eldest one, is a college student, and gets pregnant through her boyfriend, and is engaged to him.

Andy drops out of college, joins the radio station where Denny hosts his talk show, as a production assistant, and ends up sleeping with her 40 plus boss Shep(Mike Binder).

Popeye gets attracted to a cute guy in college, and calls him over to her home, only to find out that he is gay.

Emily, wants to attend a dancing school and study dancing. Her mother puts her foot down, and she ends up totally stressed in hospital.

Denny plays a sort of confidant to the family, getting involved with the 4 girls lives, and helping them to sort out their issues. In the mean while Terry becomes more and more irritable, often making a fool of herself at times. Denny is slowly attracted to Terry, putting up with her cranky attitude, because he understands her pain. Watch the rest of the movie to see whether Denny and Terry get closer together, and how Denny helps the family.

One reason why The Upside of Anger works is it’s solid characterization. Each character is wonderfully fleshed up, and come across as flesh and blood person, with all the grey areas, rather than caricatures. For instance Shep, Denny’s 40 plus lech, with a fondness for young girls, could have been shown as a nasty caricature. Instead what we get is a bumbling goofy guy, who loves younger girls, because of his experiences with more mature women. Again while Terry is cranky and irritable, the director does not show her as a foul mouthed virago. He also shows her softer side, as in the dance she has with Denny during Hadley’s wedding. Also the 4 daughters are wonderfully shown. Each of the characters is different from each other, and though most of them have standard issues, stress, teen pregnancy, first love they are depicted as normal human beings. We end up empathizing with them.

The romance part here is decidedly low key but quite charming. It is more of a mature romance between two 50 plus people, Costner and Allen, but the chemistry between them is excellent. And the romance is more realistic and believable here, the dance sequence being the best. Also the scene when Terry shouts at Denny, saying that he is using her daughter to get to her, and he hits back, saying he was bearing it all because he understands her pain.

Some of the scenes are quite funny. Like the one where Denny eats the chicken, which has been nibbled upon by the dog, and the girls try to suppress their giggles. Or that dream scene where Terry glares at Shep, and his head explodes. Or the scene where Terry meets Hadley’s boyfriend’s parents and makes a fool of herself. But again the movie loses it’s sheen, with a totally cop out climax. I mean this has to be the worst ending I have ever seen in a movie. I really don’t understand what kind of twist, the director wanted to give. It just makes you ask “What was the fuss all about?”.

The performances though are right on the target. The 4 girls are just brilliant, and their portrayal of teen girls is realistic, without being too cutesy.

Kerri Russel, who played the cute kid in Honey I Blew Up the Kid and Tom Cruise’s protégé in MI3, is good as Emily, especially in the scene where she breaks down with stress.

Alicia Witt who appeared in Urban Legend as fine as Hadley, Erika Christensen who played Michael Douglas’s junkie daughter in Traffic, does well as Andy, and she makes you empathize with her.

The best of the 4 girls is undoubtedly Evan Rachel Wood, as Popeye, who is a total delight to watch. Just watch her expressions in the scene when she discovers her date is gay, hilarious.

The movie also marks a sort of comeback for Kevin Costner, whose career was going downhill, with one dud after another. As the laidback, Budweiser loving Denny, he is effective, and provides an excellent counterfoil to Joan Allen’s high pitched act.

But the best performance is that of Joan Allen, who played the CIA agent in the Bourne series. As the cranky, irritable, alcoholic Terry, she is just brilliant, and in fact you end up falling in love with the character. And yes at 50 she looks more attractive and sexy, than all her daughters put together.

So inspite of it’s pretty much dumb climax, I would still recommend this movie for it’s wonderful dramatic moments, its hilarious scenes, excellent performances by the cast and of course Joan Allen. And yes if you are one of those females who happens to be a fan of Costner, you can watch it for him.
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