‘Upside’ of discomfort is completely honest, emotional film

“The Upside of Anger,” which features an outstanding ensemble cast, takes an imperfect yet engaging look at a family and its relationships. Terry Wolfmeyer (Joan Allen) is the mother of four daughters (played by Erika Christensen, Evan Rachel Wood, Keri Russell and Alicia Witt). When her husband disappears without warning, she is left angered and must overcome the emotions that come with losing a loved one.

She starts a relationship with her neighbor, Denny (Kevin Costner), a former baseball star turned radio DJ, who soon becomes more than just her drinking buddy. The pair is charming and the characters compliment each other in refreshing ways.

As one would expect, Kevin Costner is at the top of his game as the former baseball player, a role he has managed to play so convincingly so many times. The accomplished Joan Allen gives a validity to the film and her presence helps to raise it up a level. Erika Christensen, Evan Rachel Wood, Keri Russell and Alicia Witt all contribute great performances as the four daughters. They are all extremely talented young actresses.

Director Mike Binder shows skill behind the camera, carefully putting together an attractive looking film. Binder also stars in the film as a radio producer. His character, Shep, likes to date women much younger than himself. Shep is an interesting screen personality – he is clearly a jerk yet there is something fun and likable about watching him on screen.

Oddly, it is often difficult to tell if the actors are perfect for their roles or horribly miscast. At times, the actors seem secure in their roles and totally believable as the characters they are playing. However, at other times, the actors seem awkward and unsure. While this seems like it would work against the film, it actually has quite an interesting effect. In our own lives, we often experience moments when we feel “miscast” and that sense of uncertainty becomes very convincing in the film.

The film has one other unique problem that actually works in its favor. Many major moments of the film are not earned, while other events are built up to without a payoff. This problem makes the film slightly difficult to embrace, yet at the same time it seems to mirror real life very accurately. So often the most unexpected happenings mean more than the events we plan for far in advance. In life, there are buildups and payoffs, but often they do not coincide with each other.

“The Upside of Anger” is flawed, but it manages to use its imperfections to its advantage, making the film all the more endearing. The surprise ending is almost too unpredictable, but I suppose that many events in life are just as unexpected in different ways. At one point in the film, a character says, “Truth is, at best, a partially told story.” In “The Upside of Anger” we get truth at its best, incomplete yet emotionally charged and beautifully real.