The Upside of Anger

New Line Home Entertainment., $27.95.

The best thing about Anger (on disc July 26) is Joan Allen, but that's not surprising—Joan Allen has been the best thing about many movies. She's in a class of her own. Anger ends up a mixed bag, but remains worth seeing for Allen's lead performance. It's one of the best of the year.

Allen plays Terry Wolfmeyer, a mother who has recently been deserted by her husband of more than 20 years. The movie follows her subsequent attempts to communicate with her four young-adult daughters through an alcoholic fog. Allen nails all the nuances and busted emotions of a bad drunk, from the wobbly walk to the ugly mean streak and talons that come flying out whenever anyone gets too close. She's always on the defensive, always cutting to the bone.

Despite Allen's efforts, the movie doesn't work—it doesn't know what it wants to be. It's a mishmash of other movies' highlights (American Beauty, Ordinary People, and James L. Brooks' films among them). Writer-director Mike Binder spins out too many anemically conceived characters, and only a couple of them pay off. He's not director enough for this sprawling a narrative, but there's evidence that he might get there. His only crime is to have devised such a great central character and surrounded her with underdeveloped fluff.

His strongest thread involves Allen's simmering relationship with her neighbor, a washed-up baseball player, played by Kevin Costner. Costner—how many washed-up athletes has he portrayed now?— certainly gets it right: No American actor does that role better. It's essentially the Jack Nicholson–Shirley MacLaine romance lifted off of Terms of Endearment, but Allen and Costner have a great rhythm together, and they give their scenes a fresh energy.

The DVD includes a nauseating ass-kissing session/commentary track with moderator Rod Lurie (who previously directed Allen in The Contender), Binder, and Allen (wait a minute, why do they need a moderator?); some wisely deleted scenes; and a trailer. Expect to hear the bells of St. Joan come Oscar season.

NO SUCH TOLLING accompanied the recent release of Ice Princess, nor Keanu Reeves in Constantine, nor the sequel The Crow: Wicked Prayer, which answers that burning question, "Whatever happened to Edward Furlong?" (Well, he's co-starring with Tara Reid, for one thing.) Tommy Lee Jones, who already has his Oscar, can apparently afford to coast in Man of the House and leer at the coeds.


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