2005-04-22 / Columnists


By Robert Snyder

Hollywood star status has been dimming for actor Kevin Costner since his brilliant filmmaking debut, “Dances With Wolves.” However, his supporting part in “The Upside of Anger” could change all that.

As sloppy drunk ex-baseball pro Denny Davies, Costner does what Jack Nicholson did for “Terms of Endearment.” He injects much-needed humor and life into a story of an embittered single mother that, like the character of Terry Wolfmeyer (Joan Allen), is sinking into serious self-absorption.

Written and Directed by Mike Binder (who plays a supporting part himself), “Upside” is really Allen’s movie. Her Terry was the once “sweetest/nicest person ever” who is emotionally squashed when her husband, she believes, leaves her and her four beautiful daughters (Hadley, Emily, Andy and Popeye) for his Swedish secretary. Terry becomes near-catatonic, sitting around the house all day in her nightgown nursing an ever-present vodka on the rocks.

While Hadley (Alicia Witt) escapes to college, Andy (Erika Christensen) and Emily (Keri Russell) spend a lot of time in their “Town and Country” kitchen preparing meals. Popeye locks herself upstairs and works on a school video project, exploring the nature of anger and violence (her voiceover for the video provides a thematic narrative throughout Binder’s film).

Into this quagmire comes Denny, also sporting an ever-present glass of booze. Always stoned, he’s loose and funny, just what’s needed for Terry, the girls and the movie. Still, Terry provides numerous moments of outrage and emotionalism. While Allen acts up a storm, she doesn’t convey frustration as hilariously as Shirley MacLaine does in “Endearment.”

It’s Costner, however, who makes gets us through the two hours of screen time. In “Upside,” he shows a light side that we haven’t seen since 1988’s “Bull Durham,” where he also played a baseball star. What is it with Costner and baseball? With both movies, he hits homeruns.

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