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The Upside of Anger

Movies | The terrible results of sin seep into every part of the characters' painful lives

Issue: "Schiavo’s fight for life," April 2, 2005

"What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." That oft-recited phrase has the ring of truth, and to the Christian, growth through adversity is known as sanctification.

But without grace, a stoically optimistic attitude obscures the very damaging consequences hurtful actions can have.

And this is one of the key problems with The Upside of Anger (rated R for language, brief comic violence, and some drug use), a sad, often biting look at a family in the grip of anger. The film wants us to believe that however horribly its characters act, in the end things will turn out OK through some magical act of catharsis.

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Anger is too soft a word, really. It's rage, smoldering, sometimes flaring, that defines Terry Wolfmeyer (Joan Allen), a mother of four whose husband has taken a sudden and unexplained absence from his family. We first meet Terry this way-we don't know her, except by the description of one of her daughters, as the kind, unflappable woman she once was. The Terry the audience meets has already deduced that her husband jumped on a plane with his Swedish secretary and has gone about accepting this turn of events with the help of a bottle of vodka and a ready supply of lime wedges. (Upside is one of those rare films in which the excess on screen-in this case, heavy drinking-is so concentrated and severe that it completely deglamorizes what is often seen as an appealing vice.)

Terry's solace, if it can be called that, comes in the form of Denny Davies (Kevin Costner), a washed-up baseball great who shares Terry's commitment to the bottle. Initially just "drinking buddies," the two eventually develop a dysfunctional relationship.

Upside is full of foul (and often graphic) language. It offers a glimpse into a family self-destructing, the terrible results of sin seeping into every part of these characters' painful lives. Director/writer Mike Binder unflinchingly follows their downward spiral-until the end.

It's then that he caves-giving up on the honesty of his story (in the midst of a ridiculous twist ending) and offering the audience exactly what it doesn't need after sitting through such an ordeal: a happy ending of sorts.

The "happy ending" may be the result of studio tinkering, or perhaps a desire on Mr. Binder's part to make a saleable movie. But it's an interesting look at the only answer the world can offer to a tragedy of this magnitude: If it doesn't kill you, it will make you stronger.

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