We like to think positive at About Last Night, so we don’t have a “Bottom Five” sidebar. But the worst movie I have seen in a long time is The Upside of Anger, which had an inexplicably easy time of it with the critics. It’s true that, as almost everyone reviewing it has noted, Joan Allen is a witty and engaging performer. But that’s not enough when a script is this terrible; in my book, Allen’s goodness should count against the movie rather than for it, making us wish for her better material. If I had known that the movie was written, directed, and acted in by the man responsible for the dismal HBO comedy The Mind of the Married Man, which aired a few years ago during the six months I had free HBO, I would have steered clear. Having failed this, I apply my efforts now to sparing you.
To a large degree, I hated this movie because I hated its characters. I didn’t like this sort of criticism when it was applied to Sideways recently by some of that movie’s detractors. But then I didn’t feel the charge stood up that Payne glossed over, okayed, or played as a mere joke, say, Miles’s pathetic thieving from his mother. On the contrary–when, at the truly painful end of that scene, she offers him as a gift what he has just stolen from her, it puts him in the worst possible light. Sure, the movie asks us to like Miles warts and all, and I did, but this scene is one instance of the writers not letting him off easy, and one reminder that some of his warts are more than just cosmetic. Another critique held that the movie glamorized the characters’ alcohol abuse by presenting the wine culture they’re steeped in as attractive. If it didn’t look at least externally attractive, though, would we have half so good an understanding of Miles and his problems–and his virtues? What do you want, a movie or a public service announcement?
In The Upside of Anger, there’s so little understanding of people on the writer-director Mike Binder’s part, I couldn’t help wondering: does this guy know any? The charmless ones in his movie are more akin to (affluent) bundles of symptoms and psychoses who occasionally spit out a cue to the audience to laugh or “ooh” or cry. Kevin Costner is something of an exception insofar as his presence in the movie has a casual quality, almost as if he had wandered in off a different set entirely. I’m by no means a Costner fan, and the figure he plays here is more or less stolen outright from Terms of Endearment, but his air of just hanging around provided some relief in a film that’s contrived everywhere else you look, and whose plot, even so, doesn’t always make logical sense.
This shell game of a movie pulls its first cheap trick early: In the first scene we’re shown the funeral of some unidentified person. Then we’re yanked three years into the past, left to wonder which of the characters will meet an untimely end and, in due course, served several red herrings. Ho-hum. Let ’em (as Hannibal Lecter once advised Francis Dolarhyde) kill them all. Save yourself: skip this movie.