THE UPSIDE OF ANGER written and directed by Mike Binder, with Joan Allen, Kevin Costner, Erika Christensen, Evan Rachel Wood, Binder and Alicia Witt. 118 minutes. An Alliance Atlantis release. Opens Friday (March 18). For venues and times, see Movies, page page 90. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Joan Allen's curse is that she excels at playing tight, anonymous American women, the kind who flame and die in well-heeled obscurity up and down both coasts.
She's a paragon of middle-aged, upper-middle-class WASPdom, and no one wants to see that. She belongs in a Jonathan Franzen story or a Vermont outlet mall. She's not spectacular.
But if the movies usually demand crasser pedigrees and more flagrant degradation from women, it's to Allen's credit that she's managed to leave an impression on Hollywood's female landscape of trailer-park boxers and death-row widows.
The Upside Of Anger was written specifically for Allen, and it shows off her talents better than any film since The Ice Storm. Acid-tongued and doused in hard liquor, her character goes on an emotional rampage after her husband up and disappears, possibly to Sweden, probably with his secretary.
But it's the rampage of a well-raised woman, which means she directs thunderbolts of verbal sabotage at her four daughters (a starlet-studded cast of Alicia Witt, Erika Christensen, Evan Rachel Wood and Keri Russell). When Kevin Costner shows up as an equally pickled train wreck of an ex-ballplayer, she lunges for both his broad shoulders and his soft underbelly.
Allen's performance here is brutally exact and surprisingly sympathetic, though the movie suffers from Door In The Floor disease: one outstanding performance in an otherwise dodgy project.
There's a mild shocker toward the end that has some critics complaining. I didn't have a problem with the event itself, but with Binder's clunky handling of it.
This film probably looked airtight on the page. Onscreen, it's a series of peaks and valleys. Most of the peaks have to do with Allen's work. Her character is cutting, brittle and sometimes nasty. She'd call it truthful.