(director/writer: Mike Binder; cinematographer: Richard Greatrex; editors: Steve Edwards/Robin Sales; music: Alexandre Desplat; cast: Joan Allen (Terry Wolfmeyer), Kevin Costner (Denny Davies), Erika Christensen (Andy Wolfmeyer), Evan Rachel Wood (Popeye Wolfmeyer), Keri Russell (Emily Wolfmeyer), Alicia Witt (Hadley Wolfmeyer), Mike Binder (Shep Goodman), Dane Christensen (Gordon), Arthur Penhallow (DJ Arthur P), Tom Harper (David Junior); Runtime: 116; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Jack Binder/Alex Gartner/Sammy Lee; New Line Cinema; 2005)

“Kevin Costner [as Denny Davies] is a joy to watch.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Mike Binder as writer-director, who has a supporting part as the most despicable character in the film, handles the subject of anger in this adult romantic-comedy with an understated understanding of how damaging it could be if it goes unchecked, and displays an easy manner in handling the fine ensemble cast to get out of them natural and believable performances. Kevin Costner as Denny Davies is a joy to watch as a good-natured roguish slob and has-been ex-major league baseball player living off his World Series rep to hook up with a job as a radio talk show host in Detroit while also building a new rep as a beer-guzzling lush and someone sleazy enough to sell his baseball autographs. While Joan Allen as Terry Wolfmeyer gives an elegant performance as the embittered affluent suburban Detroit matriarch of four headstrong daughters, who has been stunned by the sudden disappearance of her husband and angrily believes he has run off with his Swedish secretary to Stockholm. This leads to her drinking problem and a caustic attitude toward life, primarily acting bitchy to her daughters.

The film opens at a funeral and goes into a flashback of three years earlier, as told in a sappy girlish sounding voice-over by the youngest daughter, the then 15-year-old Popeye (Evan Rachel Wood), and mentions how the loss of Terry’s husband Grey not only deeply affected mom but all the daughters: the eldest college student Hadley (Alicia Witt) refuses to confide in mom and turns out to be an aspiring middle-class maven who gets pregnant and upon graduation marries the stable dude who did the damage; the aspiring ballet dancer Emily (Keri Russell) suffers from stress and an eating disorder, but doesn’t share her fears with mom; and the recent high school grad Andy (Erika Christensen) gets involved in an unseemly affair with a vulgar older man, and has to face mom’s disapproval.

When the middle-aged Terry’s neighbor Denny comes over to speak to Grey about building a subdivision in the acreage in back of his house for a real-estate group he’s fronting for, where he gets a free lot, Denny’s surprised to learn that Grey is missing. He absorbs the homemaker’s wrath because he feels her pain and invites himself in by promising to quietly watch on TV the show of her choice–the anthrax scares from post 9/11– while boozing it up with her. It leads to him becoming part of the household on a regular basis and providing the trusting support she needs, and though Terry tries to stave off a serious relationship they have sex and find they are irresistibly drawn to each other. This leads to Denny getting involved in being a surrogate father to the daughters and siding with Andy’s unpopular decision with mom to not attend college but get a job. Denny gets his womanizing producer Shep Goodman (Mike Binder), who uses his power position to score chicks half his age, to get the 18-year-old Andy a coveted job as his assistant.

The film gets off track and gets caught in lots of goo, cheap hysterical fits, and too much sermonizing. It ends with an unfairly gained final twist and leaves us with an irksome voice-over that trivializes the raw emotional theme of how consuming anger is by explaining the title away as meaning that the upside of anger is the “person you become.” These screenplay flaws were not enough of a detraction to take away the realistic sensitive portrait painted of the family situation and how fully developed all the main characters turned out to be, something not usually found in such a soap opera story.

The Upside of Anger

REVIEWED ON 5/13/2005 GRADE: B –