The Upside Of Anger

After discovering that television was not his forte, "The Mind of a Married Man" creator Mike Binder tries his hand at a movie about a dysfunctional family in suburbia. The story revolves around Terry Wolfmeyer (Joan Allen), forced to raise her four headstrong daughters on her own, when her husband abandons them for his Swedish secretary. What he leaves behind in his absence is a family struggling to stay afloat amidst the changing tides.

Following his departure, Terry succumbs to depression, finding solace in drinking, smoking, crying, and flipping out at anyone who happens to make the mistake of walking near her. Denny (Kevin Costner), a local baseball player-turned-radio DJ, deems himself her new ‘drinking buddy’, and often swings by unexpectedly. “You have no boundaries!” she exclaims, when stepping out of the shower to find him sitting in her bedroom with a cocktail and a smirk. What starts off as a sexual relationship soon escalates into a companionship that fills the big gaping voids in their lives.

A few of the best zingers in the film are given to the beautiful angst-ridden daughters, Andy (Erica Christensen), Popeye (Evan Rachel Wood), Emily (Keri Russell), and Hadley (Alicia Witt). Despite the great ensemble of young talented actresses, their main purpose is ultimately to serve as one-dimensional eye candy for the audience. We don’t really get to know them on a personal level because they are essentially caricatures. Emily is the quintessential ballerina, overstressed and underfed. Popeye is the naïve, schoolgirl hung up on a gay classmate. Andy is sleeping with an older sleazy man in an effort to further her career. And to top it off, Hadley has made a sport out of getting pregnant. Needless to say, their interactions with Terry are often predictable and unsatisfying, much like Tea Leoni’s infuriating relationship with her daughter in Spanglish.

On a positive note, the acting by the leads is solid. Kevin Costner usually bores me with his wooden performances, but his charming nature in this role adds a breath of fresh air. My favorite scenes in the movie revolve around him and the situations he encounters. Playing yet another baseball player for the umpteenth time, he winds up being the only multi-faceted, likeable character in the bunch. Joan Allen shows a wide range of negative emotions, and does an excellent job portraying the woman we love to hate. While we may not like her character much, there is no denying she is a fine actress, and often begrudged her due respect.

Upside Of Anger is clearly inspired thematically by American Beauty, but is unable to reach its status or impact. The main problem lies in the unmemorable script and weak characterizations. A series of unnecessary voiceovers uttering vacant lines such as, “The upside of anger is the person you become”, should have found their way to the cutting room floor. The four daughters remain stilted strangers that we never get to know or truly care about. "The Mind Of A Married Man" failed because of Binder’s inability to write well- rounded interesting men, and regrettably he suffers the same shortcomings in this movie dealing with women.