The Upside of Anger first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and showed the world just how well a bunch of known actors and actresses could do when underpaid and given the right script. Joan Allen’s character is angry at the world, and you can feel it intensifying throughout the whole movie. Costner’s character, Allen’s friend, is the most real a person can get, baring all flaws and hang-ups without fear. Likewise, the four girls that play Allen’s daughters all have their own feelings about life, love, hate, and hurt when it comes to their fiery mother and recently departed father. It’s a cast mostly full of women, each trying to find their own independence, but in no way is Upside simply a “chick flick.”
Most movies have the classic setup; a group of friends, family, army buddies, what have you, hang out together and then “something” happens. They all react and maybe “something” else occurs. Then, there’s another reaction that ties the movie up in a nice bow. Anyone that has studied writing can recognize this. The newest setup trend for the story is to begin at the end. The audience will of course wonder “what happened before this to make it end this way?” Then the writer/director takes the story back and plays it from beginning to end. Again, a basic way of bringing the viewer in to show them what happens to this random group. (It’s these classic techniques that make movies like Memento rock; because they break the rules.)
For The Upside of Anger the story starts at the end, at a funeral scene, and jumps backward three years. What I like is this: once you go back in time to see the story, the pulp of the conflict, the “something,” has already happened. The father figure has run off with his secretary. Therefore, the characters are in reaction mode from the get go and you never get a chance to see them as “normal.” This set up makes for a very intriguing beginning as you try to figure out who’s who and how each one feels. All the characters’ emotions are in high gear from the beginning, which is good, but, because you don’t have a connection with any character yet it almost seems thin, like we haven’t been let into the tale yet and are only there as observers. It’s through Costner’s character, Denny, that we arrive in the story, he’s our sympathetic partner also trying to understand what has happened. More importantly, Costner is really likeable, and that’s saying something because I don’t remember ever seeing a movie where I enjoyed the talent he brought to the table.
I did, at times, find the daughters annoying, but apparently so did Allen. There’s a little bit of the “typical” girl stuff in there: “do I look fat,” jumping to conclusions, saying or doing something just to be mean, but as Costner laughs in the movie, “it’s just all very female.” Mike Binder has written the roles of women very well and set under a microscope their relationships and functions in society, then he challenged them, gave them texture, gave them options that extended beyond the norm. The mother’s character is extremely abrasive, loud, drunk, bossy, and in no way resembles June Cleaver, but, she doesn’t appear harsh or too over the edge. This is good. This is more real than anything you'll see on TV or in the movies. My mother’s self-titled nickname was “Mom the Banshee,” and if you don’t believe Upside is close to reality, ask Jane Kaczmarek where she’s made her money. This film portrays dysfunction in the best way; as individuals still attempting to appear normal and functional in a time of chaos. This is honest.
Upside is a film that strives to speak about men and women, the real purpose of the dinner table, and dissects the dynamics of all relationships, familial and sexual. It is dramatic, human, and comedic all at the same time. Not only is the story so well written that it’s unpredictable, but also the look of the film is visually strong. For me, many of the most impacting scenes were merely a motion or reflection, free from the restriction of dialogue. These quiet moments spoke volumes about the characters. The Upside of Anger is definitely one of those films that you will watch again to see if you can pick up on a new dimension interwoven into the story that you didn’t catch the first time; one of those stories you get called back into during the day to think about; one of those pictures that makes you remember why you like watching movies.
To jump right in there with the disc, before you get to the main menu you see…nothing. It’s just the menu! Thankfully, no forced previews are included. I want to watch Upside, so that’s all I have to watch. After the movie comes the extras. I believe it was Emily Dickinson (and I’m probably wrong here, but I know it was a woman author) that said, “less is more.” And that’s the rule with the special features of The Upside of Anger. There aren’t many, but what they chose to put in are all strong, not Extended, Director’s cut, Special Edition filler.
There are only eight deleted scenes and while I was glad to see them, I was equally glad they weren’t included in the final version of the film. All of these scenes would have changed the way we viewed the characters, so I think it was a correct decision to omit them. One in particular is a pretty gruesome cut of Allen’s character dreaming of murdering her husband and his secretary. The others all would have changed the dynamic of the family with minor points that aren’t checked over later in the film. Throughout the movie Mike Binder is very careful to come back to what we already know, these scenes would have changed that. For example, in one early scene of the film, Allen hesitantly pulls three bottles of alcohol off a grocery store shelf. This small action is revisited later when she stops at the same shelf but grabs nothing. What’s also nice with these deleted scenes is that there’s a Play All feature for them as well as a choice to watch the scenes with or without the audio commentary, another plus in my world.
Next there’s the obligatory “Creating The Upside of Anger” behind the scenes look with in depth interviews. Even when there are virtually no extras on a disc there should at least be this. But in this case, these interviews are great. There’s actually discussion and dissection of the film and not a whole bunch of garbage about how great everyone was to work with (everyone is always great to work with, if they weren’t, they would’ve been kicked off the set and sent home).
Now I have a confession to make, and I know a lot of people won’t like this, but…if I can help it, I don’t read the box covers until after. I like to jump right in and form my own opinion about the movie before looking at Joe Schmoe’s quote printed on the box telling me this movie is “the best thing I’ve seen all year,” or “unbelievable and real,” or “two big thumbs up!” When I walked in this door I thought The Upside of Anger was dramatic with several parts that were funny. By watching the “Creating” section, apparently, everyone that’s in the film got the script and thought it was hilarious. This threw me for a loop and then I watched the theatrical trailer. Yep, it’s supposed to be funny. I think either way you perceive it, it’s a good film, whether it’s a dramatic comedy, or as the box says, a comedic drama. Six of one; half a dozen the other, if you ask me.
Finally there’s an excellent audio commentary featuring Mike Binder and Joan Allen. The discussions here are full and rich with information about acting, producing, talents, and set up; the works. This is by far one of the best commentaries I’ve heard to date because while they do weave in and out of the scenes on the screen, they aren’t afraid to go off on tangents just talking about the process or the purpose of the film. For all the DVDs I’ve seen without extras (and for some of them that was a relief) I was so happy to see a pleasant balance with Upside. Like I said, “less is more” and on this disc, because all the extras are actually good features.