Stumbling into the dining room in a drunken daze is Terry Wolfmeyer (played by The Bourne Supremacy’s fiery CIA Director Joan Allen). She’s upset and more than a little tipsy, which is her state throughout much of The Upside of Anger. In no mood to be gentle, she declares to her four daughters that their louse of a father has run off with his secretary and moved to Sweden.
Understandably upset, Terry finds solace single-handedly emptying bottles of Grey Goose vodka. That is, until Denny Davies (Kevin Costner) shows up to help her.
Denny is a takeoff of Costner’s previously celebrated ballplayers (Bull Durham’s Crash Davis and For Love of the Game’s Billy Chapel). Now retired and coasting on his past successes, Denny is overweight and hosts a local radio show that’s floundering because he refuses to talk baseball. He’s also a borderline alcoholic who persistently invites himself over to Terry’s to accompany her as a drinking buddy.
Costner instills Denny with a heartwarming quality that makes you fall for this lovable dope, not unlike how Terry eventually surrenders to him. Their relationship is by far the best part of the film; watching these two actors generate an endearing and real connection completely steals the show.
Unfortunately Terry and Denny can’t be in every scene, and like most films, The Upside of Anger has subplots. The problem with this movie is that it has more than most – much more. Seeing that Terry has four daughters, time has to be given to each one of them to develop their own characters, so the film gets somewhat derailed having to elbow everybody in.
Those four fighting-for-scenes sisters include: Keri Russell as Emily, a hopeful ballet dancer with a stress problem and Alicia Witt as Hadley, who spends most of the film away at college until she graduates and wants to marry her sweetheart. Evan Rachel Wood also costars as “Popeye,” who spends most of her time developing a relationship with a boy she’s got a crush on. And Erika Christensen is the last daughter, Andy, a wannabe newscaster who gets a job working at Denny’s radio station, where she develops a relationship with his seedy producer “Shep” (Mike Binder, who also wrote and directed the film).
Shep is a desperately needy middle-aged guy who dates younger women because they’re still “nice” enough to appreciate when a guy does something for them, but is nothing more than a constant thorn in Terry’s side. In fact, each girl’s subplot is nothing if not another opportunity to present problems for Terry.
The girls all do a good job creating likable characters, but the film is at its best when Terry is at her worst. And The Upside of Anger gives her plenty of opportunities to wobble around – drink in hand – managing to make us laugh and grimace. It’s a remarkable performance, made even better by her unpredictable relationship with Denny.
In the end, The Upside of Anger is a story about family, loss and how life can bombard you from all sides to the point where you just want to give up and grab a bottle.
Brian Mulligan can be reached at email@example.com.