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The Upside of Anger | Review

Dysfunctional Housewife

Binder visits the suburban family-unit.

It’s not a total knock-off of the sparkling 1999 film American Beauty, but writer-director-actor Mike Binder’s tale of upper-middle class depression certainly decorates itself with a similar assortment of colors, style and substance. Stitched with an ensemble of slightly contrived characters, The Upside of Anger is anchored by Joan Allen’s juicy, highly likable performance full of foul-mouthed, booze-induced antics, but the possible charm of the film wears thin with the bottomless supply of sequences that make every important, life-changing event come across as silly puddy.

Commencing with a brief flashback snapshot of a family burial sequence which is later referenced with the film’s weak moral conclusion, the film’s youngest surviving member named Popeye (narrated by Evan Rachel Wood – Thirteen) sets the course for why Mommy isn’t feeling too well. Heading the estrogen-filled house is a mother of four named Terry (Allen – Off the Map) who believes that her better-half has skipped town in favor for a Scandinavian treat. Drinking herself into a depression by way of some high grade Grey Goose vodka, she finds a drinking partner and a strange bedfellow in a former baseball player named Denny – played by an actor who is used to donning the pin-stripes. The chemistry between Costner and Allen works especially well, but while the film allocates enough screen time for every player, it hardly carves out a more concrete inside portrait of mother-daughter relationships – the girls played by Erika Christensen (Traffic), Keri Russell (We Were Soldiers) and Alicia Witt (Vanilla Sky) are relegated to corny one-dimensional roles.

Labeled as an exploration of a matriarch’s own imperfections, Binders skips out on the more profound discussions on alcoholism as a crutch and unfortunately his script avoids relishing in the full scope of bottled anger – instead, the story depends on a smorgasbord of separate scenes where anger is doused with hollow, insignificant pop two pills and you’ll feel better in the morning moments. The more the film trails off into these distracted, weaker sequences, the more the film avoids the mention of the identity and core of the family crisis – something crucial has occurred, yet the film throws in a jock, a graduation, a student video-project and hospital stay.

It’s hard to totally dismiss this film because it still manages to offer enough cute moments to put a smirk on one’s face – but the cuteness recedes quickly because the proposed nervous breakdown remains as a superficial plot-device and comes across as unaffecting rather than emotionally straining. While the ridiculous ending may put a dent in the final product, the upside for The Upside of Anger is that it should find many adult audiences, however, the downside will be for those who’ve seen films deal with the familiar subject matter in a better, more thought-provoking manner.

Rating 2 stars

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist and critic at (founded in 2000). Eric is a regular at Sundance, Cannes and TIFF. He has a BFA in Film Studies at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013 he served as a Narrative Competition Jury Member at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson's This Teacher (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022 he served as a New Flesh Comp for Best First Feature at the 2022 Fantasia Intl. Film Festival. Current top films for 2022 include Tár (Todd Field), All That Breathes (Shaunak Sen), Aftersun (Charlotte Wells).

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