Joan Allen……….Terry Wolfmeyer
Kevin Costner……….Denny Davies
Erika Christensen……….Andy Wolfmeyer
Evan Rachel Wood……….Lavender “Popeye” Wolfmeyer
Keri Russell……….Emily Wolfmeyer
Alicia Witt……….Hadley Wolfmeyer
Mike Binder……….Adam “Shep” Goodman
Tom Harper……….David Junior
Dane Christensen……….Gorden Reiner
Danny Webb……….Grey Wolfmeyer
David Firth……….David Senior
Rod Woodruff……….Dean Reiner
Stephen Greif……….Emily’s Doctor
Between his misadventures in cinema, Kevin Costner seems to have a certain knack when it comes to the sport of baseball. The sport, it seems, almost defines the expanses of his career. With the exception of Dances with Wolves and The Untouchables, Costner’s career has been a string of several hits involving the baseball diamond and many strikeouts involving other genres. Field of Dreams and Bull Durham are revered home runs, For Love of the Game comes in as a solid double while Waterworld and The Postman (amongst others) were big whiffs with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 9th. And it’s a shame, for much like Bill Buckner, he is remembered more for having a ball go through his legs than for having a respectable career, Costner’s failures are more memorable than his successes.
His career in baseball movies has run quite a gamut as well, as he’s played older men at various end points in their careers. Crash Davis was a player at the end of his career, trying to continue his dream of being a professional baseball player. Ray Kinsella was a man for whom baseball was a metaphor for his life and his relationship with his father. Billy Chapel was a player looking at his life in the moments between the last pitches he would make.
All three characters are metaphors for stages of life; Davis the attempt to hold on to days gone by, Kinsella the attempt to find the meaning of it all, and Chapel as the man reflecting upon his life in his last, most perfect moment.
How fitting, then, that Costner adds a movie about life in The Upside of Anger. Costner plays Denny Davies, a former Detroit Tiger turned radio host. He is a sports celebrity who doesn’t want to revel in his past. He does sign baseballs and other memorabilia for the money as a means of keeping himself fiscally solvent, but as an ex-baseball player he doesn’t seek to define himself by it. This is a bit of a contrast to his co-star Joan Allen, playing Terry Wolfmeyer, as he’s a man looking to define who is without his past and she’s someone looking to define herself as a newly single mother of four children after being Mrs. Wolfmeyer for so long.
Wolfmeyer, played by Joan Allen, is a bit of a wreck. Her husband has just left her and her four daughters to fend for themselves and she drowns herself in the bottle to comfort herself. Denny meets a natural drinking buddy, as both find solace with their lives in each other (and vodka). The bottle and Denny are her only real comforts as her world changes radically right after her husband’s departure. It’s readily apparent in the strife of her household that the daughters and mother are at odds with one another.
Oldest daughter Hadley (Alicia Witt) is graduating college, with a big surprise in store for her graduation. Emily, played by Felicity star Keri Russell, wants to pursue the same sort of dream her mother once did and become an artist. Swimfan star Erika Christensen is Andy, who opts out of going to college to take a job at Denny’s radio station and shares her bed with “Shep” (Denny’s producer) in a May-September style romance that Terry doesn’t approve of. To top all of this “Popeye” Wolfmeyer (Evan Rachel Wood), the youngest of the four daughters, plays a bit of an oddball trying to fit into the world around her. It makes for an incredibly funny and well-done treat in the wasteland of the early parts of the year in cinema.
What makes this movie tick is that the ensemble cast is well-developed. None of the characters are shoved down on our collective throat. They are given time and space to be able to show the little personality quirks that draw you into the movie. It doesn’t hurt that the movie is incredibly funny, but it’s funny in a manner that isn’t pandering. It’s just an amusing situation you can’t help but find hilarious.
Allen and Costner are characters who are drunks that barely function in society, are barely able to keep it together in social and familial events, and yet it’s not played as if they are just stumbling through life. Denny is just a guy who begins the day with a beer and keeps going like some of us drink Pepsi. It’s sad, yes, but it’s not made out to be pathetic. It’s a character flaw but it’s not his defining characteristic. He brings an under-stated presence, functioning often as Terry’s voice of reason and as her muse in alternating episodes.
Terry, on the other hand, is so filled with rage at her husband for leaving her (presumably for his Swiss secretary) that she subdues it to an extent with the alcohol to a point where it interferes with her relationships with her daughters. Hadley already dislikes her, enough to the point that she hides her boyfriend of three years from her, and Terry’s alcoholism is a wedge with her other daughters as well. Emily and Andy use it as a means of insulting her in private, and Popeye avoids the situation by withdrawing into her own little world with her bungee-jumping unrequited crush.
The movie takes this and uses it as motivation and impetus, not as the actual story. The movie is about how Terry’s rage against the world around, about how it’s changing the context and subtext of life with her daughters. What makes it special is that they take the time and effort to develop the supporting cast of the four daughters, as more than just one-line character summaries. It’s more than just Terry reacting; it’s also the daughters reacting to all of this. They are angry at their father for leaving, but at the same time they need her to be a mother and not a drunk. Emily and Andy function as more parental figures than as sisters to Popeye, supplanting Terry in parts of the movie. It’s not about one or two people reacting to a situation, it’s how the world around them reacts to a situation.
This is the kind of movie that Costner should be known for, as opposed to the types of movies that obscure an otherwise quality acting resume. He and Allen have a wonderful chemistry with one another that just radiates on the screen. It’s a touching love story between two flawed yet redeeming characters and the people it affects.
It’s equal parts comedy and tragedy, making you laugh out loud while also touching on something else deep inside. It all adds up to one amazing movie.