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|The Upside of Anger|
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E||
dir-scr Mike Binder|
scr Joan Allen, Kevin Costner, Evan Rachel Wood, Erika Christensen, Keri Russell, Alicia Witt, Mike Binder, Tom Harper, Dane Christensen, David Firth, Roderick P Woodruff, Danny Webb
release US 11.Mar.05,
05/UK New Line 1h57
Do a little dance: Costner and Allen
Especially strong performances and a dynamic script make this suburban drama both engaging and entertaining, as writer-director-costar Binder adeptly combines comedy and emotion.
Terry (Allen) is left in a state of bitter fury when her husband runs off, leaving her with four daughters on the verge of womanhood (Witt, Russell, Christensen and Wood). Each daughter has enough issues with their mother, so all of this anger isn't helping. But Terry finds an understanding soul--and a fine drinking buddy--in a life-weary baseball pro-turned-radio host, Denny (Costner). But she's certainly not ready for a relationship. Or for her daughters to move on with their own lives.
There's a terrific comic tone to this ultimately serious drama. Dialog zings with acidic cynicism, and yet it's also continuously warm and funny, moody and ultimately cathartic. While the overall plot feels a little meandering and random, with odd gaps and an indistinct progression of time, it's also utterly gripping to watch these people deal with major moments along the way, learn to cope with each other in slightly more positive ways, and face the surprises life continually throws at them.
Allen is of course marvellous in the central role: jagged and acerbic, furious at everyone and everything, but also sharply witty and, underneath it all, emotionally raw. Costner makes a surprisingly effective foil for her as a life-loving, stress-free guy who sees that spark in her and decides he can live with her excesses. He bounces off all five women brilliantly, highlighting each of their roles and giving the film a growing hopefulness that these people might be able to work through their issues.
Binder (who also plays Denny's scruffy, womanising producer) keeps the film gentle and relaxed, with flickers of high emotion and a plot-redefining event late in the story that sharply highlights all of the themes. It's a glimpse of three years in the life of recognisable people dealing with serious issues through good humour and strong but sometimes difficult relationships. As it begins to snap into focus, the film also becomes a provocative and moving look at all-too-human interaction.
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© 2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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