After hearing much talk about how it was a really good movie, I recently sat down to watch The Upside of Anger. Initially, it seemed like a well-made movie, with interesting characters and a plot I could relate to – in short, something that should be very likable. In actuality, it’s not.
While watching it, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what didn’t work for me and why, but eventually I worked it out. The problem, in short, is I didn’t feel any sort of connection to the characters. The story felt as though it were told as a series of vignettes, and it was difficult to judge the amount of time passing between the scenes. The whole affair seemed so disjointed that I was forced to spend more time figuring out the amount of time separating scenes than paying attention to what was taking place with the characters. There are scenes where leaves are on the trees, followed by one where it's snowing, and then another (what seems like a few weeks later) when there are leaves turning brown on the trees again, but it's simply not possible from the story to assume that anything more than a month has passed from beginning to end.
When I was able to spend my time examining the characters, I found them to be incredibly one-note. Joan Allen’s anger went on, and on, and on, with no growth, for an incredibly long period of time. At one point, it seemed as though Mike Binder sat down and thought to himself, “How would a cruel woman react in this situation… how would a cruel woman react in that situation,” and then proceeded to string together several scenes playing out his various thoughts.
Kevin Costner, now too old to be a ballplayer, plays a retired one. I felt as though he just imagined what Crash Davis might have turned into fifteen years after Bull Durham. He was perfectly enjoyable to watch, but I felt as though I’d seen him do this role before… several times.
As for the supporting cast (mostly the actresses playing the daughters), I’m indifferent. They jump quickly from happy to sad, from nice to mean, and though they display a complete hatred of their mother, still wish to remain under her roof. I assume we’re supposed to believe that Erika Christensen is in high school (hence the discussion of her not wanting to go to college), but it’s simply not believable. She was roughly 22 when the movie was filmed, absolutely looks it, and it makes the movie that much harder to understand. And beyond her being in high school, what about Keri Russell playing someone whose character also seems to be in high school? Even as Felicity she was in college, and that was several years ago. It's simply too much to ask the audience to assume.
I believe that had I been more engrossed in the movie, the ending would come as something of a shock and cause me to rethink any small doubts I had about the genius of the film. But, as it stood, I actually decided Joan Allen’s character deserved to feel even more wretched than she did at the beginning of the film. I had no sympathy for her. And, that’s not a slight at her acting. She and Costner tried their best to hold my interest, and were completely believable in their roles. The story just let them (and me) down.