The Upside of Anger | Review
Binder visits the suburban family-unit.
Itâ€™s not a total knock-off of the sparkling 1999 film American Beauty, but writer-director-actor Mike Binderâ€™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 Allenâ€™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 filmâ€™s weak moral conclusion, the filmâ€™s youngest surviving member named Popeye (narrated by Evan Rachel Wood – Thirteen) sets the course for why Mommy isnâ€™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 â€“ 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 â€“ 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 matriarchâ€™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 â€“ instead, the story depends on a smorgasbord of separate scenes where anger is doused with hollow, insignificant pop two pills and youâ€™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.
Itâ€™s hard to totally dismiss this film because it still manages to offer enough cute moments to put a smirk on oneâ€™s face â€“ 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 whoâ€™ve seen films deal with the familiar subject matter in a better, more thought-provoking manner.