Saturday, April 2, 2005

The Upside of Anger

When suburban Detroit housewife Terry Wolfmeyer’s (Joan Allen) husband Grey goes missing with just his wallet, Terry suspects that he has run off with his Swedish secretary – to Sweden. She’s understandably angry and just to prove it, she hits the bottle, the hard stuff. A neighbor, a retired big league baseball player turned radio host Denny Davies (Kevin Costner) comes calling. He wants to speak with Grey about the new housing development deal they are working on with their extra land. He’s stoned and carrying a can of beer. Over a three year period he and Terry become drinking buddies, friends, and lovers.


Terry’s four daughters, Hadley (Alicia Witt), Emily (Kerri Russell), Andy (Erika Christensen) and Popeye (Evan Rachel Wood), seem, on the surface, to deal with their father’s disappearance stoically and for Popeye, philosophically. However, Hadley rushes into marriage right after college graduation. Andy refuses to go to college and Denny gets her a job at his radio station; she starts an inappropriate relationship with Shep (Mike Bender), a producer. Emily ends up in the hospital with stomach problems, probably caused by stress. And Popeye keeps a journal.


Writer/director and actor Mike Bender has created a fine movie that examines the nature of human anger under a cinematic microscope. It’s pretty ugly. It’s an invitation for audiences to take a good look at our own internal violence.


As I thought about the film, it reminded me of what a very honest, non-romantic version of Little Women might look like today. A mother with four lovely daughters who struggle without the husband and father. The war is not on the outside, however, as the Civil War was for the March family in Louisa May Alcott’s classic. Rather it rages and takes its toll on the interior landscape of the characters' souls and is made manifest in their relationships and life choices.


But change is possible.


To Mike Bender’s lasting credit, this is not a chick flick (I really dislike that term; to me it’s derogatory) because it never caricatures the women. Anger is an equal opportunity, universal sin for all people and an occasion for transformation good for all seasons.


Kevin Costner gives a credible performance in this film; he plays a well-off bum really well. He is a perfect counter-point to Joan Allen’s uptight, liquored, and angry persona. I have never seen Joan Allen in a role she did not accomplish to perfection, and here she does not disappoint.


The Upside of Anger is a de profundis movie. It is not until the characters hit the depths that they can rise.


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