Prayer Focus
Movie Review

The Upside of Anger

MPAA Rating: R for language, sexual situations, brief comic violence and some drug use

Reviewed by: Jonathan Rodriguez
CONTRIBUTOR

Very Offensive
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults
Genre:
Drama
Length:
1 hr. 58 min.
Year of Release:
2005
Copyright, New Line Features
Copyright, New Line Features

Copyright, New Line Features
Copyright, New Line Features
Copyright, New Line Features
Copyright, New Line Features
Copyright, New Line Features

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Adultery

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Featuring: Kevin Costner, Joan Allen, Erika Christensen, Keri Russell, Alicia Witt, Evan Rachel Wood, Mike Binder, Tom Harper, Dane Christensen, more »
Director: Mike Binder
Producer: Media 8 Entertainment, Greentrees Films, VIP 3 Medienfonds, more »
Distributor: New Line Features

Sometimes what tears us apart helps us put it back together

Terry Wolfmeyer’s husband has run off with his secretary to Sweden, and left Terry to handle the day-to-day stresses of raising four high school and college-aged daughters in Mike Binder’s film “The Upside of Anger”. Terry doesn’t take the abandonment gracefully. Instead of maintaining a solid front for her daughters, she drowns herself in her sorrows, not to mention a whole lot of alcohol.

Her neighbor, Denny Davies, is a retired Detroit Tigers baseball star who wanders over to her house one afternoon with a beer in hand, to talk to her husband about possible land development behind the Wolfmeyer’s home. She tells him that her husband has run off, and the two become drinking partners; pathetic souls who find solace in each other, and in the bottle.

Denny has always had a thing for Terry, but never made much of it, because she was married. However, he uses her husband’s absence as a springboard into the possible relationship he has always wanted. He invites himself over for dinner, which is always prepared by Terry’s four levelheaded daughters Hadley, Emily, Andy, and Lavender (Popeye).

Each of the daughters is experiencing their own problems, but they handle them far better than their mother. They avoid bringing them up around her to give their mother time to bathe in self-pity. The daughters seem to be very close-knit, but each begins wilting under the oppression they receive from their mother. Perhaps having her husband run off has given Terry free reign to say anything and everything that pops into her head, without regard to tact. She loves her daughters, but at times lashes out at them with viscous verbal assaults and belittles the things they like doing the best. She does not appear to give a second thought about how she might be hurting their feelings.

However, the relationship with Denny softens her, to an extent, and makes her more bearable to her daughters as they tackle some very serious problems that come their way.

Sounds like a fun movie, huh? Believe it or not, Mike Binder has fashioned all this dramatic material into a very, very funny film. The two main characters may not be great people, but Binder has made them likeable, because authenticity permeates through them. These are real people, albeit non-Christians, experiencing life’s woes the way real people might go about doing it, with a little humor thrown in. Every minute of the film rings true, and that is thanks to the performances, which are uniformly outstanding.

Joan Allen and Kevin Costner are Terry and Denny respectively, and each turns in remarkably genuine performances. Allen’s best scenes are ones where she doesn’t even speak, she wears her emotions all over her being—her face, eyes, neck, body posture all tell us exactly how she is feeling, and Allen seems to do it effortlessly. Costner is great in a more understated role, and his best scene comes when he has finally had enough of Terry’s moaning about life and gives her a piece of his mind. Alicia Witt, Keri Russell, Erika Christensen, and Evan Rachel Wood are all perfect as the daughters who keep their mother in line, and rally around each other when the going gets tough.

However, as is typical with just about any secular movie these days, there is plenty of content in this film that will keep many Christians from wanting to view it. The drunkenness of the main characters, while not condoned, is taken lightly, and played for laughs. Ephesians 5:18 tells us not to be drunk with wine, wherein is excess, but these people apparently skipped over that verse in Sunday school. Some of the characters are engaged in sex outside of marriage, and while no sex scenes are shown, they are also seen without moral judgment from either side. Exodus 20:14 makes it pretty clear how God feels about adultery, and once again, these characters pay no mind to it. One of the characters gets pregnant out of wedlock. One of the girl’s friends admits his homosexuality (which leads to her trying to convince him to have sex with her, to prove he isn’t really gay). And one of the characters is a leech of a middle aged man, who makes it a habit of getting close to the younger ladies.

Language is strong, with a number of f-words, uses of God’s name in vain, and various others that will offend most Christians. All in all, this is a morally dead film. Make no mistake, these characters are not Christians, so I guess it should come as no surprise that they don’t live or talk like Christians. Christian adults considering whether to view this movie should therefore be forewarned, and should judge accordingly. “The Upside of Anger” is certainly not a film for children (few will want to see it anyway).

“The Upside of Anger” contrasts with many shallow productions that take little effort to create. I appreciated the overwhelming reality of this film. A few of the scenes may not ring true, but for the most part, they do. It is a very funny film that benefits enormously from interesting characters, strong dialogue, and Oscar caliber acting. And the ending of the film… well, let’s just say it blew me away.

I spent half the movie trying to figure out where “The Upside of Anger” was taking me, and when I got to the conclusion, I found I had not been close to guessing. Some may argue that the ending is implausible, but to this reviewer, it could not have been more perfect. Aside from the film’s objectionable elements (which earned it an R-rating), I think it is one of the year’s most interesting films, so far.

Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Extreme / Sex/nudity: Heavy

Year of Release—2005 / USA Opening: March 11, 2005 (NYC/LA)

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Negative—A few girlfriends and I went to view this movie recently and were all obviously offended with how easily the characters took the Lord’s Name in vain. Though the characters were certainly not Christians, it seemed that they weren’t capable of even discerning between right and wrong. The mother, played by Joan Allan, justifies and defends her “break down” repeatedly to her daughters and her actions don’t clearly “lead” to the wrongful actions of her daughters. I believe that one vital scene that the reviewer didn’t mention was when the youngest daughter and her professed homosexual male “friend” were alone in her bedroom they were smoking from a “bong.” With the overuse of alcohol, strong language, promiscuous and adulterous sexuality, drug use, homosexual apathy, this movie is certainly not for those looking for “Christian worldview” material.

Ultimately, in the end, the mother misled herself and all those around her to believe an “assumption” based on her part which was far from the innocently tragic “reality.” Again, overall disappointing and not “real life” for those of us who were trained (even in non-Christian homes) to pick yourself up by the bootstraps and work hard to take care of yourself and your loved ones.
My Ratings: Very Offensive/3
—Dawna Somerville, age 36
Positive—Anger can be caustic and harden hearts over time. Joan Allen makes the movie work since her anger, which spills over aspect of her life, is both realistically portrayed. We understand the cause of her anger and she spares nobody, including herself, as a target. Yet, as strong as her anger is displayed, it never overpowers the love for her family. It is Joan Allen’s ability to properly balance both strong emotions throughout this movie that makes it so powerful. She deserves an Academy award for this performance.

The cast is uniformly excellent and the characters believable. The ending does not wrap up everything and provide the viewer with a neat package assuring everything will be OK. But is does clearly show that love can continue to grow over time while anger fades.

Language, and sexual content is certainly present but not gratuitous. They reflect bad decisions that people sometimes make and consequences are neither ignored nor played up for more dramatic value.

The first half is slow and the movie never goes in the direction you expect. But at the end, you feel the joy and pain that comes from loving family members that are less then perfect. Four stars, go see it.
My Ratings: Offensive/5
—J. Eby, age 49
Positive—Morally speaking, this movie is full of sin, with no righteous characters at all. But then, weren’t we all just like this before Christ changed our hearts and minds and made us clean? This is a movie about a woman in the depths of anger and despair, a good-hearted, lost man who hangs out with her, and her daughters who live without guidance. The plot is multi-layered and intricate, as emotions pile up on emotions. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, with full awareness that the movie was meant to portray the complexity and misery of human emotions when things don’t go one’s way, when our dreams don’t come true. For Christians who see this, it simply points out the need for God.
My Ratings: Very Offensive/5
Halyna Barannik, age 59
Movie Critics
…a fine piece of ensemble acting… the performances by Allen and Costner are spectacular, and their chemistry is palpable…
—Shirley Sealy, Film Journal International
…The upside here is an unlikely comedy about unpredictable characters in uneasy, often hilarious circumstances…
—Kirk Honeycutt, The Hollywood Reporter
…the movie’s premise is shaky, its story thin and its surprise-twist ending an utter catastrophe… a seriously flawed movie wrapped around two nearly perfect performances…
—A.O. Scott, The New York Times