As the endlessly repetitive early summer/late spring movie doldrums continue, I am instituting an “Undiscovered Gem” blog that will highlight a wonderful film that you may have missed in its theatrical run. Just in case you’re not racing out to the multiplex to see Thor or Fast 5, these occasional blogs will identify a movie that I highly recommend as a weekend film treat.
Today, I am going to pay tribute to a film from one of the rapidly disappearing writer/directors who embody and courageously carry on in the tradition of Old Hollywood story telling.
Brilliantly written and directed by Mike Binder (who also co-stars), The Upside of Anger jumps off the screen and into our hearts as a powerful whirlwind of emotions with fascinating, provocative questions about family and the elusive emotion of anger with which most of us seem to flirt on a daily basis. (If you commute to work in a big city, that sentence might better read “hourly basis.”)
The story revolves around a woman (Joan Allen) who awakens one morning to find that her husband, with no warning, has simply vanished, never to return. With four daughters to raise, she slips–actually, plunges– into a world of anger, bitterness, and the solace of daily bottles of vodka. Her neighbor (Kevin Costner) becomes fascinated with Allen and her daughters and the film, totally based in character and emotions, plays out in the relationships among all of them.
Joan Allen gives the performance of a lifetime here. She takes a woman “on the brink”, so to speak, and plays her with every color of the acting rainbow, from tragic sorrow to soaring comedy, and never misses a single beat. Costner, too, has never been better. Together, he and Allen create a fascinating and very adult love story that is strikingly original and compelling.
Anger is indeed a powerful force that can literally sweep us up in its fiery grip and deposit us into a world where everyone around us reflects our own anger back to and at us. The four young women (Keri Russell, Erika Christenson, Evan Rachel Wood, and Alicia Witt) who play Allen’s daughters are each brilliant and, most importantly, they illuminate the various manifestations of anger that can insidiously manifest in our children and in ourselves. (All 4 of the actresses have gone on to distinguish themselves in several other films and television series.) The Upside of Anger brilliantly sketches the individual challenges that these four young women must face as a result of a single emotion of one of their parents.
Ultimately, the situation facing all the characters in the film turns out to be a moment of grace, one of those times in life when, usually in retrospect, we realize that our lives have been redirected by a powerful and seemingly invisible universal force.
The Upside of Anger is a classic Old Hollywood character-based film that also asks the eternal questions of who we are and why we are here and leaves us feeling better about being human beings when the film is finished. It also reminds us of how wonderful films can be when they trust the intelligence of their audience. Gee, what a concept!
I loved it…and I hope you do, too.