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The Commitments

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For the first ten minutes of The Upside of Anger, Joan Allen’s character Terry Wolfmeyer is a little drunk, and often in her nightgown. She’s the kind of woman who ordinarily would be embarrassed to be seen that way, but right now she’s a little vulnerable. It’s a great introduction to her character because we get to know her while her guard is down, and we can laugh a little at her expense.

Drunk in the Morning

They circle around each other with mutual interest, never quite committing
They circle around each other with mutual interest, never quite committing

She’s drinking and sleeping late because her husband has run off to Sweden with his secretary, leaving her to raise their four daughters. We can laugh because the Wolfmeyers are rich enough and the daughters mature enough to survive the ordeal. But for now, Terry is pissed off, and if she stays a little drunk, then the rest of the world is just going to have to deal with it.

Also drunk (and stoned) in the morning is Denny Davies (Kevin Costner, playing yet another baseballer). Davies is retired, but he still makes the odd buck with his radio show, signing baseballs, cutting ribbons, or in this case, real estate deals. Denny and Terry both have property abutting some land that he would like to develop. But when he finds out Mr. Wolfmeyer left, Denny puts business aside and tries to console the lovely, mature, now-single Terry. We’re not sure how much of his interest is human sympathy and how much is the possibility of a rebound romance, but it’s clear his motives aren’t entirely pure.

Allen and Costner are very good in their roles. They circle around each other with friendship and mutual interest, never quite committing themselves to each other fully. Denny really has nothing better going on in his life than this relationship. Terry is so torn by so many different emotions that she can barely function, let alone commit.

Support Network

Orbiting around them are a host of supporting characters with their own charm. Writer/director Mike Binder gets to be funny as Denny’s middle-aged radio-show producer. He is conversant in all the latest boy bands because it helps him date teenagers, including one of Terry’s daughters. He is sleazy, but Binder plays the role for laughs, and he usually gets them.

As for Terry’s daughters, they are all pretty, mature, and wise beyond their years. They are more or less interchangeable, except for their ages, and except for the moody one (Keri Russell) who wants to be a dancer. In a way, they are too perfect to be believed, but since they are only supporting characters, we let it go.

Dabbling in Brooks

Binder’s movie is a lot like Terms of Endearment. Both films feature a retired celebrity flirting with a single woman who lives nearby. Beyond that, Binder’s movie is a lot like James L. Brooks’ films in general. The Upside of Anger is an adult movie about relationships and emotions. The script is smartly written, with enough comedy to appeal to a big crowd. It’s about as successful as Brooks’ latest effort, Spanglish — not wildly entertaining, but worth a look if you’re too old for teen comedies.

The Upside of Anger is probably not for the most discriminating film snob. The movie is a little too contrived and too polished to earn a place in film history. The hand of the filmmaker is too apparent in a too many scenes. When Denny and Terry start talking about finding something real in their relationship, the movie music starts playing and makes it seem completely unreal. The fact that the music was very quiet just proves the point. I’ll bet someone on the production fought for silence at that spot, and only managed to tone it down.

A bookending story puts Terry’s emotional stew into perspective and brings the movie to a serene close. One of her too-wise daughters explains the movie’s title in voiceover, and we are left with the impression we’ve been on a wild ride. A fair criticism is that Anger is “just a ride,” but if you don’t mind that and want something for grownups, there is an upside to Anger.