About the Author  |  HFMedia  |  Contact us
"Achieves a harmonious balance between truth and consequence."
"Each character is fleshed out and given an opportunity to react to the emotions of anger and pain."
"The only downside is a singular plot point, a complexity that is introduced for complexity's sake."
The Upside of Anger  


Terry Wolfmeyer: Joan Allen
Denny Davies: Kevin Costner
Andy Wolfmeyer: Erika Christensen
"Popeye" Wolfmeyer: Evan Rachel Wood
Emily Wolfmeyer: Keri Russell
Hadley Wolfmeyer: Alicia Witt
Adam "Shep" Goodman: Mike Binder INTERVIEW
David Junior: Tom Harper
Review April 2005

Oftentimes, when people get angry, their sense of right and wrong gets blurry. In other words, what once seemed good is now perceived as bad and what was once a bad idea is now interpreted as good. Such disarray becomes the norm for Terry Wolfmeyer, a mother of four whose life takes an unexpected turn when her husband leaves her for another woman. Overwhelmed with grief, she drowns her anger in alcohol, until an offbeat relationship with a former baseball player, takes her down the path of recovery. Written and directed by Mike Binder, creator of the HBO series "The Mind of the Married Man," "The Upside of Anger" examines the mind of the abandoned wife and her family. It toys with its character's imperfections, their destructive nature, and their indifference and disreputable concerns toward others. But it does so with sincerity and severity, light and dark comedy, and personal and family drama. And in spite of its ill temper, "The Upside of Anger" achieves a harmonious balance between truth and consequence.

Terry Wolfmeyer is angry. A middle-aged housewife with four teenage daughters, Wolfmeyer is dealing with a personal crisis. And not very well. It would seem that her husband has up and left her, moving to Sweden because of an affair with his secretary. Rather than come to terms with the loss, Terry turns to alcohol to hide her true feelings. Depressed and uncommunicative, she turns into an embittered and inebriated monster toward her daughters. At least, until Denny Davies shows up. Davies was once a star pitcher for the Detroit Tigers. But now, with his glory years behind him, he has led a somewhat lucrative life hawking souvenirs while also running his own radio talk show. But despite his modest lifestyle, he is alone. Stumbling into Terry's life by accident, a relationship evolves, one that starts out innocently and drink friendly before migrating into something far more complex.

Compounding Terry's personal crisis is a series of events that her daughters are dealing with on their own. The daughters try and keep their secrets from their mother, not wanting to shake her instability, but the truth somehow always surfaces and furthers her emotional outrage. And the alcohol doesn't help matters. Hadley is pregnant and engaged; Andy is sleeping with Denny's sleazy producer; Emily plans to skip college for a career in the performing arts; and Popeye has relations with a boy who claims to be homosexual. Yet, through it all, Denny remains Terry's source of strength and stability. In fact, the two are able to commiserate with one another in the most difficult of times and discover that there is an upside beneath all of the pain and torment.

It's unfortunate that this film arrives so early in the year; otherwise, Joan Allen would have a guaranteed Best Actress nomination. Shuffling flawlessly between emotions, Allen is terrific in the leading role. Known for such dramatic works as "The Ice Storm" and "The Contender," Allen jumps out of her comfort zone to tackle comedy. And the transition works brilliantly because her serious presence on screen lends itself to comedic pratfalls, awkward moments of outlandish behavior, drunkenness, and mischief. The way she plans a sexual encounter with Denny, the embarrassing toast she gives to Hadley, and the confrontation with Shep Goodman. Each of these scenes is comedic simply because of the way Allen projects her character's vulnerabilities, her strengths and weaknesses. And she's fortunate enough to be surrounded by a stellar cast, including the easy going Kevin Costner, whose Denny Davies retains many traits from previous personas, but nonetheless, fits comfortably in the supporting role.

Apart from the cast, the one thing that I absolutely loved about this film is the way each character is fleshed out and given an opportunity to react to the emotions of anger and pain. We all know how Terry deals with anger, but if you look at the behavior of the other characters, you'll see that they are also, well developed. Denny ignores Terry's anger, seeking an escape from loneliness; Hadley becomes secretive, hiding her engagement and pregnancy; Andy becomes promiscuous, sleeping with the wrong crowd; Emily becomes defiant, rejecting her mother's wishes for college; and Lavender becomes interpretive, creating a school project on the origins of anger.

Each character's reactions are explored in a way that supplements that of the main character. For instance, after a heated argument with her mother, Emily slams the door only to be seen executing a pirouette. This is wonderful contrast. And a credit to Mike Bender, who wrote, directed, and stars in the film (He plays Adam "Shep" Goodman). Bender not only examines the affects of anger on each gender; he dissects it at the family level. And the end result is both astute and complete.

Sadly, however, I must report that the storyline is not as complete. In what can only be described as an abrupt and unnecessary detour, the absence of Terry's husband is addressed. It is a cruel and bitter irony, one that derails everything that precedes it. And it makes you question each of the character's actions and emotions in retrospect; in particular, that of Terry, who agonizes over the departure of her husband, who degenerates into childlike behavior around Denny, and who acts as an edgy, opinionated, and overbearing mother to her children. Not once does she attempt to confront her fears. Not once does she attempt to reach out and seek closure. Not once does she put the welfare of her children above her own.

Although intended as a parable, this shift is detrimental to a film that speaks the truth. It hurts the characters, the story, and the audience. After all, I don't think anybody would disagree that life can be cruel. Heck, it can be downright malicious sometimes. But in consideration of the overall direction of the film, this points to irresponsible motherhood and in the very least, contradicts the story's realism. Especially when you toss in the time element and emphasize the maturity of the daughters through several life changing events. Wouldn't someone, anyone, try and contact the father? You would think so, but here, the line between reality and self- serving screenwriting are crossed. And the lingering effects are disastrous, damaging a beautiful story about two evolving relationships: 1) the relationship between Terry and her daughters and 2) the relationship between Terry and Denny.

Certainly, there is a lot of upside to "Anger." Joan Allen is fabulous in the leading role, the characters are well developed and emotionally involved, and Mike Bender executes a unique blend of comedy and drama out of circumstances that are very honest and very personal. Depression, anger, and sadness are just some of the ill effects families must deal with after relationships have gone sour. And this film looks at many of those emotions from all perspectives. The only downside is a singular plot point, a complexity that is introduced for complexity's sake. It's a tough pill to swallow after everything that has transpired. Particularly when that pill has no remedy.

Back to top  |  Print  |  Email            Copyright  2005 Mark Sells