STUDIO: New Line
MSRP: $27.95
RUNNING TIME: 117 Minutes
• 8 Deleted Scenes
• ‘Making Of’ Featurette
• Commentary with Joan Allen and Mike Binder
• Trailer

Sometimes a movie totally broadsides the audience. Pulls right up, fires the cannon and just bobs in the water while guys with peg legs and knives in their teeth swarm all over you.

This is not one of those movies. Except that for about a minute and a half roughly an hour into the action, it is. At that point, some utterly left-field shit hits that makes this wildly uneven but well cast flick worth a look for even the most chick-flick-phobic CHUD reader.

The Flick

Did I say ‘wildly uneven’? Let’s emphasize that. The Upside of Anger is a rollercoaster, rising to heights where it becomes very funny and unpredictable, then sinking to maudlin depths. When it’s at rock bottom, close your eyes and you’d swear it was a Lifetime special.

The saving grace is an ensemble that includes the incomparable Joan Allen, Kevin Costner, Alicia Witt, Erika Christensen, Keri Russell, Evan Rachel Wood and director Mike Binder. Even when the going gets rough, and it frequently does, one or more of these actors offers up something to float the scene until Binder’s script can find higher ground.

The upside of hanging out with a cute girl in high school? Free makeup.

Allen is Terry, a previously happy housewife whose husband has just skipped to Sweden with his former secretary. Her four gorgeous daughters (Christensen, Wood, Russell and Witt) all have their own problems, no few of which stem from their suddenly spiky and brittle mother.

With that in mind, you can practically hear the saliva glands at Lifetime and Oxygen kicking into overtime. But in walks Denny, a retired baseball player who lives down the street. He’s drunk and stoned and kind of a lout, but underneath his disaffection lurks a decent guy. As he and Terry get involved, one daughter gets married and pregnant, while the others face a stress disorder, the onset of puberty and a sticky relationship with Denny’s cradle-robbing radio producer, perfectly played by Mike Binder.

Audition for Macho Man Randy Savage bio-pic? Nailed.

If that sounds like a lot to stuff into one lil’ old romantic comedy, it is. In fact, with Binder’s script as blueprint, it’s impossibly broad. Subplots are introduced with little thought to form or function. Need drama? How about an awkward meet the parents scene. Maybe a goofy rendezvous in a suburban intersection, or one of those classic gags where a microphone is left on at the wrong time? The script is like a solo played solely on the high end of the scale.

But the actors save much of it. Through her clenched teeth and flaming eyes, Allen looks overjoyed to play this furious, spurned mom. She draws laughs out of scenes that aren’t really funny by making them far more human than the script imagines. Her confrontations with Shep, the lecherous middle-aged radio producer who refuses to date women his age, are particularly funny. So are the small moments with Denny when the couple is drunk and pissed off and not entirely comfortable with each other.

Alright, fine. $250. But you wear the schoolgirl outfit and call me ‘sis’, OK?

And speaking of Denny, I love Costner in this. Just freakin’ love him. It’s not that he’s amazing, just that he’s good, and very different from what we’ve seen from him in a decade. Denny is the role guys like Costner close themselves out of when they hit superstar status. Watching him nail scenes and weave his way though the movie is a delight.

Even with two strong performances to anchor it, The Upside of Anger has two nearly crippling flaws. One is that we never see Terry before her anger sets in. We don’t know what she’s lost, and at times feel as if she lost nothing at all, so her anger often seems childish and indulgent, even when Joan Allen is making it fun to watch. And the film ends on an absurd plot point meant to put everything into perspective, but which really just feels as if Mike Binder was on an M Night Shyamalan binge while writing.

But the impulse to write that same cheap twist conclusion also creates the scene I mentioned initially. From 56:30 to 58:00 on the clock you’ll see the sort of thing that doesn’t make it into many films like this, but definitely should. And for that, not to mention the enjoyment I got from Allen and Costner, I’m willing to forgive at least a few of The Upside of Anger‘s flaws.

6 out of 10

The Look
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Well…not bad, not particularly good. I like the warmth and color balance, but the edge enhancement in some scenes is off the chart. Generally speaking, though, the transfer is acceptable, but rarely rises above the minimum passing requirement.

6 out of 10

Sob! If she notices my nasal forcefield I’ll just die!

The Noise
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No one is going to use this DVD to demo their new 7.1 sound system. But for a middling dramedy full of highs and lows (and the screaming and laughing actors to go along with them) the surround track is just fine.

7 out of 10

The Goodies

I didn’t expect to get much out of the commentary by Binder and Allen (moderated by Rod Lurie, who directed both in The Contender) but it turns out to be worth the time. Binder tries to justify some of the film’s failings, succeeding at times, and the rapport between the three participants draws out jokes and candid discussions that we wouldn’t otherwise hear.

Most of the eight deleted scenes were cut for good reason, but a couple are worth a look. How can you not love seeing Costner get busted while smoking up with his sorta-girlfriend’s daughters wedding band?

8 out of 10

The Artwork

Medium-sized heads. Smiling faces. A tender moment. Costner smiling because Joan Allen’s hand is in his lap. What else do you expect from a film like this?

6 out of 10

Overall: 6.5 out of 10
(10 out of 10 for the 90 seconds between 56:30 and 58:00)