"The Upside of Anger" is a very good movie that is unfortunately going to be missed in the theatres by the larger audiences. Directed by Mike Binder on a budget of a mere twelve million dollars (which is meager by the standard of today), "The Upside of Anger" is a film focusing on the character of Terry Wolfmeyer (Joan Allen) and her four daughters played by Alicia Witt, Evan Rachel Wood, Keri Russell, and Erika Christenson. At the start of the movie Terry is left by her husband (we never see him on screen) and is left quite bitter towards him. She is also clearly something of an alcoholic. Into her life walks Denny Davies (Kevin Costner), a former ballplayer who also hosts a local radio show but refuses to talk about baseball. Denny and Terry have known each other for years, probably through her husband, but it seems like something changes when he finds out that Terry's husband left. Denny starts coming around more often, but it isn't romantic. Denny drinks too much, too, and they start out as drinking buddies washing their lives away.
Terry's anger (and drinking) is driving her daughters away from her. She says in the movie that she has one daughter that hates her and two or three who are on their way. If Terry is driving the family apart, it is Denny that is holding them together. At first he sort of imposed his way into staying for dinners, but midway through the movie it seems completely natural and the daughters are starting to really like Denny. There is no easy path through the lives of this family, with the illness of one daughter and the anger of the mother, but Denny's good humor somehow keeps this movie from being too dark and gloomy.
The role of Denny has to be one of Kevin Costner's best roles and best performances in years, possibly since 1996's "Tin Cup". He has done some good work since then with "Thirteen Days" and "Open Range", but Denny feels like a signature Costner character with his easy charm and his easy laugh. This is one of his more natural feeling performances and it is one of the reasons why, for a time, people really enjoyed going to a Kevin Costner movie. But this isn't a Kevin Costner movie. It's a great ensemble piece and if anything, it is a Joan Allen movie. If this movie came out in October or November rather than April, there would likely be serious talk about Allen picking up a Best Actress nomination. It would be warranted. She plays the role here very well and doesn't take Terry too far past the line we would lose any sympathy for her. Besides the two leads, all four women who play the daughters also do as good of a job as possible in their limited roles.
In fact, the only negative that I can find is Mike Binder himself. Not as a director, but as an actor. Binder plays the role of Denny's radio producer Shep and Shep is an overly irritating, disgusting, piggish character. Perhaps it is just about right because it gives more conflict to the family, but it just felt a little out of place and a little over the top. But even that doesn't detract too much from the movie and I really loved this movie. If I hadn't heard about this movie for several weeks I would call it one of those nice little discoveries a person finds at the movie theatre (or on DVD) from time to time. It's quite good and I wouldn't be surprised if it holds up to be one of the better movies of the year.