The upside of angers
Anger comes in different forms and can be expressed in various ways. From singing to writing, from violence to exercise, anger is evoked from raw emotions of stress and suffering and its release can often be somewhat therapeutic.
But it’s not so often when this emotion is the basis for an entire film and is felt amongst every central character on screen, like in Mike Binder’s ‘The Upside of Anger.’ The film may be a dramedy about a family embracing the hardships of their lives in the absence of a father, but behind the scenes it’s definitely an important film for the people who have been a part of its production.
This is the first film for Joan Allen (‘The Bourne Supremacy’) where she has been cast as the lead role. This is also actor-writer-director Mike Binder’s latest independent film since his 2001 comedy, ‘The Search for John Gissing,’ Keri Russell’s return to film ever since she finished the TV drama ‘Felicity’ in 2002 as well as Kevin Costner’s latest role since his acting-directorial effort for ‘Open Range’ in 2003.
Being that Joan Allen had a lot riding over her shoulders as the lead role portraying a very angry woman dealing with the abrupt absence of her husband as well as her four daughters, she admits it was a challenge for her in a way that everyone who sees the film wouldn’t hate her.
‘We wanted to push that a little bit because Mike and I would talk about how society isn’t very comfortable with women’s anger in general, and so it was kind of put out there a little bit to sort of really show somebody who’s been ticked off; a woman who’s really in a bad situation and not handling it well. Some people react very differently to stres,’ Allen said.
Even though Joan Allen’s real life persona is said to be the opposite of her role as Terry Wolfmeyer, the extremely angry and fragile woman, she is still unsure whether to show her own 10-year old daughter the film.
‘She has a pretty strong stomach, and she can pretty much put things into perspective. She’s pretty sophisticated, and she will be eleven soon. And so I’m debating about it,’ Allen said. ‘I may not let her see it, but I did let her see ‘Off The Map’ where I have a brief nude moment but it’s more like a ‘National Geographic’ moment than a sex film.’
”The Upside of Anger’ was inspired by the writer-director’s own experience growing up with divorced parents and the anger of his mother,’ Allen said. ‘The subject matter of anger shared throughout a family affected the actors, like Erika Christenesen (‘Traffic,’ ‘Swimfan’) and Kevin Costner, by allowing them to feel that the film had something to say, which is why they wanted to be a part of the experience.
‘I think it said something about communication and how lack thereof can cause a lot of undue trouble,’ Christensen said.
‘It’s a very American movie with universal themes of men and women. I just thought it was an original voice; it humored me without challenging me,’ Costner said. ‘I thought all those things existed in Mike Binder’s writing and that’s why I wanted to do it.’
Despite the fact that the film stars several familiar names and was shot overseas in London, the video quality of the picture does not look cheap. It was screened at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival and producer Alex Gartner still firmly believes that ‘The Upside of Anger’ is an independent film.
‘I think the lines are blurry there. I don’t think independent means that a movie can’t reach a big audience,’ Gartner said. ‘I think the only reason you define this as independent is that it was, for a fact, financed outside the studio system financing structure. It was financed by an independent movie company with no studio affiliations, so it is an indepdendent movie. This movie was made for a fraction of what studio budgets are.’
The film also marks a comeback to the media for actress Keri Russell.
‘I was out of sight. I did that purposely; I took a whole year off, a little over a year. I finished ‘Felicity,’ and kind of stayed in L.A. for a few months. I just checked out. I took two boxes of books, a suitcase full of clothes, I rented an apartment in New York, I had mattresses on the floor, and I lived there for a little over a year, and I still live there, I moved there,’ Russell said. ‘I needed a break. Honestly, I didn’t know if I wanted to act anymore. I considered going back to school.’
Speaking of school, co-star Evan Rachel Wood (‘Thirteen’) had a few thoughts to say about her future, being that her career is rising with many opportunities at her disposal and that she’s somewhat interested in continuing her education.
‘I’d like to have the experience of college but I mean, this is probably a bad way of looking at things but I don’t think I’d get along with anybody and I don’t think I could deal with so many people being drunk 24/7. That would get really old,’ Wood said. ‘And they don’t sleep. So I’ll probably just take college courses somewhere.’
Aside from her hesitation in her future endeavors, it looks like Russell is here to stay after her very long vacation away from cinema and television.
‘In [‘Felicity’], an average day for me was about 18 hours, and four years of that is really life arresting,’ Russell said. ‘I got great things from it too, but I just needed the time off. I need to like read a book and not do interviews, and not get my photo taken. And it was so good for me. And there were people of course that were like ‘What are you doing?!’ It was essential to me. So this movie was the first thing I did back.’
Unlike Wood’s hesitation for college and Russell’s prior slight aversion from continuing her career on screen, Costner did not hesitate at all with taking the role of a baseball player (yet again) in ‘The Upside of Anger.’
‘I don’t have any problems revisiting things in my life because I took them seriously when I did them,’ Costner said. ‘I’m forced to look at them occasionally. I don’t mind going back. I don’t feel like I have to live on them or repeat them. The same way that ‘Field of Dreams’ separated itself from ‘Bull Durham’ and ‘For the Love of the Game’ separated itself, that I felt clearly Mike had given me that room that he [Costner’s character] was just an ex-jock that was a baseball player. I know my connection and so it wasn’t lost on me.’
Costner and Allen both seem to have a lot of respect for Binder as a writer and director, and are clearly appreciative of being able to work with him.
‘I think Mike is very close to being our generation’s Woody Allen. All of his movies aren’t set in New York, they’re just set in Detroit,’ Costner said. ‘If it could be as good as ‘American Beauty,’ I would be very happy ’cause that’s a classic American movie which is not leaning on anything other than just a little slice of life on a couple of street blocks. And Mike took these five women who were pretty mean to each other most of the time, and made it kind of watchable. Mike wraps his arms around the story with entertainment.’
As for Allen, she claims that her attendance at the screening for the film at Sundance was one of the best nights of her life.
‘I have to say that I went to Sundance and I cried at the end. I grabbed Mike afterwards because there were 5 to 700 people at the screening and I hadn’t really done a film where people laughed so openly,’ Allen said. ‘It was such a great feeling to make people laugh. I know I made people cry or want to slit their wrists but to make people laugh is a very intoxicating, wonderful thing.’
Mike Binder’s ambition is clear in the sheer audacity of the film, and will hopefully continue in his future work. He’s currently work on ‘Man About Town,’ which he had originally wrote for Steven Spielberg to direct, but just ended up directing it himself. It stars Ben Affleck as the lead role. When asked about his thoughts on Affleck, Binder definitely was supportive of him.
‘The guy won the oscar at 24