Terry Wolfmeyer (Joan Allen) is on a bender. Her husband of many years has recently left her, for his Swedish secretary, and she isn't coping well. Her four daughters, Hadley (Alicia Witt), Emily (Keri Russell), Andy (Erika Christensen) and Lavender (Evan Rachel Wood) regard their boozing mother with bemusement as she lashes out at them. She doesn't even give them an opportunity to consider the loss of their father, she does it for them. Sitting in the dark, drinking Vodka, Denny Davies (Kevin Costner), an ex-baseball superstar for the Detroit Tigers and a current radio talk show host, stops by, carrying a Bud. He offers to sit and drink with her. So begins their relationship. Over the course of the next few years, Terry and Denny begin a relationship and help each other deal with the complexities of their lives and her daughter's lives.
"The Upside of Anger", featuring a terrific performance by Joan Allen, and Kevin Costner's best performance in years, is easily one of the most poorly marketed films in recent history. The ads, featuring the two or three funny moments in the film, are misleading. This film is about a family dealing with a missing father and the various complications of life. If anything, "Upside" is a drama and should be marketed as such.
Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby" was originally scheduled to be released in the spring of this year. When the Warner Bros. people saw the film, they loved it so much they moved it up to December, 2004, making it eligible for Oscar consideration. Too bad they didn't do that with "Upside". Joan Allen's performance would have earned her a nomination as well. Yes, the Best Actress category was weak last year, but even in a strong field, Allen's performance is powerful and believable.
Terry Wolfmeyer isn't an easy person to like. Yes, her husband just walked out on her, but she lives in an alcohol fog, taking out her frustrations on her daughters. The young women take it in stride, because they are used to it. They laugh about it behind her back and she doesn't notice. All the time. When she does, Terry becomes an uncontrollable beast. The performance is remarkable because Allen changes the character in subtle stages. As she grows closer to Denny, she mellows a little, but she still has her tantrums, most of which are caused by the choices her daughters make. Throughout the film, Allen brings her character back to life. Throughout, we get the sense that Terry is unhappy with the path that her life is taking, but manages because she has responsibility and also because she finds happiness in her family. She doesn't ever truly seem happy, but she seems less angry.
I haven't been a fan of Kevin Costner's for many years now. After "Dances With Wolves" he went on a self-indulgent streak, making films like "Wyatt Earp" (I'll never get those three hours of my life back! It seemed like twelve!), "Waterworld" and "The Postman"; over-long epics designed to show what a great star he was and little else. In "Upside", he plays a character who could be the older version of the character Costner played in "Bull Durham', but at a different point in his life. It's also interesting to watch Costner play a character that isn't necessarily a hero or the center of the film. Denny has been a hero for the hometown sports team, but now that age is catching up on him, he eeks out a living signing baseballs, attending shopping mall openings, drinking a lot of alcohol and hosting a radio show. He is burned out on baseball and won't even talk about it on his show, angering viewers. Initially, he finds a kindred spirit in Terry, someone who will keep him company as he drinks, to stem the tide of loneliness. He gloms onto the family and becomes a member before they know what has happened. Soon, the daughters are asking him if he is going to stay, so they can set a place at the table. He quickly becomes a confident to Terry and helps her deal with some of her problems. The performance is interesting because he helps to balance Terry's character. As Terry becomes more balanced, Denny fades into the background, supporting her. You don't often see a star take on a role like this. Costner does a good job with it, balancing Allen's work well.
The story is familiar. None of the problems Terry's daughters encounter will seem new or fresh, but they are handled with a subtle grace that you don't often see. These same story ideas could quickly degenerate into the stuff of television soap operas (and comes close more than once) but the depth of Allen's performance brings it back to a more acceptable reality.
The film is also set in an apparently affluent suburb of Detroit. The lush trees and brick walls seem to make the world even more insular. In this way, the film clearly sets it apart from the world at large. Many people go through these same issues, but these people, in this community, deal with it in this way.