When angry, Terry Wolfmeyer (Joan Allen, “The Bourne Supremacy”), the recently abandoned anti-heroine of “The Upside of Anger,” has a disquieting stare that is more alarming than anything seen in the innumerable horror films currently in theaters. Before her husband walked out on her, Terry was a kind, even-tempered woman; now, armed with a Bloody Mary and a biting sense of humor, she makes the desperate Housewives” look like Betty Crocker.

Directed by Detroit-area native Mike Binder, “The Upside of Anger” follows Terry along her downward spiral, and opens as her husband appears to have jumped ship with his Swedish secretary. Terry doesn’t reflect, lament or ask why; she simply becomes angry — very angry. Her merciless fury takes no prisoners, even as her baseball star-turned-alcoholic disc jockey neighbor, Denny Davies (Kevin Costner, “Open Range”), becomes a newfound drinking buddy and eventually her on-and-off again lover.

Binder, who also wrote and co-stars in the film, structures the movie entirely on lives of its characters, which seem a bit too familiar. Terry, the suburban housewife gone over the edge, and Denny, the has-been former baseball star, are only slightly tweaked versions of the usual romantic dramedy stock. Nevertheless, Binder treats them as if they were complete originals, developing them with astonishing success; the two are fleshed out into complex, intriguing and strangely alluring personalities that drive the film. “The Upside of Anger” also considers the lives of Terry’s four daughters, played by Keri Russell (TV’s “Felicity”), Evan Rachel Wood (“Thirteen”), Alicia Witt (“Two Weeks Notice”) and Erika Christensen (“The Perfect Score”). Their scenes, though often brief and glossed over, are just as intelligent and inexplicably captivating as those featuring Costner and Allen. Equipped with a furious sense of humor and sharp, witty dialogue, the characters alone nearly propel the movie into greatness.

Alas, the surprise ending — though not unoriginal or disingenuous — is completely incongruous with the movie’s tone and narrative. Binder seems to have conceived the film with the ending as its selling point, and despite creating such a smart and engaging framework, was unwilling to cut the final punch even though it was no longer necessary. As a result, the final moments of “The Upside of Anger” resort to an extended voice-over for closure that lacks any poignancy — turning the title into a catchphrase and ending the film on a schmaltzy, unwelcome note.

Still, the self-depricating climax doesn’t completely diminish the film’s worth. At its heart are two luminous performances from actors who have aged with confidence and grace — Allen, in yet another showcase of her eclectic talents, and perhaps more surprisingly, Costner. Though playing a washed-up celebrity who has gone from boundless arrogance to utter disillusionment may not seem like much of a stretch for the fading star, he brings Denny to life with a kind of unpretentious zeal that suggests he may have a few more films ahead of him after all.

On the whole, “The Upside of Anger” follows a path similar to Costner’s career: It approaches great heights that it never quite reaches, but its uncommon delights make it impossible to regard as a failure.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.