Yes, Kevin Costner has played in some baseball movies: “Bull Durham,” “Field of Dreams,” “For Love of the Game.” And yes, in “The Upside of Anger” he plays a retired baseball player who finds time between drinks and smokes to sign a few baseballs.
With that recognition out of the way, it’s now worth noting that Costner generally is good in those movies, and the role of Denny Davies in “Anger” fits him like a glove.
Denny is neighbor to Terry Wolfmeyer (Joan Allen), a woman whose husband has just run off with his Swedish secretary, leaving Terry alone with their four daughters ranging from junior high to college.
Terry decides to manage her frustration and anger with alcohol. She hits the bottle from sunup to sundown, taking time to breeze into the kitchen and aggravate the daughters she’s leaving to fend for themselves—which they manage to do amazingly well.
Denny finds out about the Wolfmeyers’ problems and decides he’ll keep Terry company. After all, he knows how to drink. When Terry rebuffs him, he knows just what to say.
“If you don’t want, I won’t talk,” says Denny. “I’ll just sit and drink with you.” And he does.
Denny slowly works his way into the household of women, doing simple but good things—like helping one of the daughters get a job at the radio station where he hosts a show.
The four daughters each have their own storyline: the youngest has a crush on a boy at school; another wants to study ballet; another gets that job at the station and becomes involved with Denny’s producer (played by the writer-director, Mike Binder); and the oldest is thinking about a family.
And of course there’s mom, a mess of a woman who seemingly can only be straightened out by the mess of a man named Denny. Allen is terrific as a woman so mad about the curve ball she’s been thrown she can’t see straight. She’s in the process not only of drinking herself under the bed, but of forfeiting on the relationships she holds dearest: those with her daughters.
Denny, for all his faults, is smart enough to see this. Furthermore, his own life is so empty of anything meaningful that he craves even the conflict at the Wolfmeyer residence because it’s real—not the illusion of celebrity.
Some folks are comparing “The Upside of Anger” to “American Beauty,” as both films manage to defy genre and focus on conflicted families.
“Anger” is comedy and drama, and writer-director Binder has delivered some hilarious situations, many of which involve his character, Shep. In one of the best scenes, Shep tries to explain to a furious Terry why he is interested in her daughter, who is half his age. Shep’s rationale for why older men are interested in younger women is altogether funny and hits close to home for Terry.
“Anger” doesn’t match the overall cohesiveness of “American Beauty,” but not many films do. It does deliver, however, one of the most shocking cinematic moments I’ve seen in a while. It’s rare that a director does that to an audience. That moment gives evidence of Binder’s boldness as a filmmaker, and such boldness is welcomed.
“Anger” does feature a bit of a mystery and twist—again, not as satisfactory as those in “American Beauty.” But the performances by Costner and Allen are rock-solid, and the relationship they build is one many mature adults will be able to appreciate.
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
MPAA Rating: R for language, sexual situations, brief comic violence and some drug use. Reviewer’s Note: Some of the sexual situations involve the daughters, who seem to approach sexual activity rather casually. Also, that surprising cinematic moment may just make your heart skip several beats. Beware the soup scene …
Director: Mike Binder
Writer: Mike Binder
Cast: Terry: Joan Allen; Denny: Kevin Costner; Andy: Erika Christensen; Emily: Keri Russell; Hadley: Alicia Witt; Popeye: Evan Rachel Wood; Shep: Mike Binder.
The movie’s official Web site is here.