Positive rage: Upside of Anger proves there is one

“The Upside of Anger”

New Line Cinema

Written and directed by Mike Binder

Starring Joan Allen, Kevin Costner, Erika Christensen, Evan Rachel Wood, Keri Russell, Alicia Witt and Mike Binder

Rated R/116 min

Released March 11, 2005

Four out of five stars

“The Upside of Anger” is so full of understanding and sympathy for its characters, you just want to hug it. Writer/director Mike Binder juggles a large cast of impossibly attractive actors, and yet finds time to let them breathe and come into their own.

Joan Allen is a knockout as Terry Wolfmeyer, mother of four headstrong daughters (Wood, Christensen, Russell and Witt), and wife of a man who has apparently run off with his Swedish secretary. Bring on the drink!

Terry is mad, mad, mad and takes it out on her rapidly maturing daughters. She boozes the day away, sometimes by herself, and sometimes with her pot-smoking, ex-ballplaying neighbor Denny Davies (Costner).

Allen’s Terry is a woman whose anger is unfocused-it targets whatever enters its line of sight. One moment she’s steaming hot mad at her daughter’s decision to skip college, the next she’s phoning up Denny and asking if he’d like to fool around.

Terry’s a complicated character who swings from one extreme to the next like Tarzan swings from vines. Allen’s achievement is making Terry’s different moods believable. She draws a map of her character that’s easy to follow. It’s one of Allen’s very best performances.

Costner also performs well as Denny, a charming lump of regret and disheveled clothes. Of the four girls, Christensen and Russell get the juiciest parts, but none of them are thrust to the wayside.

At 116 minutes, “The Upside of Anger” breathes a little too deeply-some storylines are less interesting than others. Reservations aside, it’s hard to knock a movie that cares too much about its characters rather than not enough.

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