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MOVIE REVIEW This time, the romance comes almost literally out of left field



Published: Fri, April 1, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Kevin Costner's character has learned to accept his many limitations.

By JAMI BERNARD

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Wow, talk about coming back from the dead! Kevin Costner gracefully resurrects a career that went down in flames of ego by playing a drunken loser in "The Upside of Anger," a wonderful, sophisticated romantic comedy about the resilience of love in the face of competing emotions.

Costner is charming and low-key where once, around the time of "Waterworld" (1995) and "The Postman" (1997), he was self-serving and grandiose. It's Costner's equivalent of what Jack Nicholson did in "Terms of Endearment," another movie that allowed fussy, flawed characters to fall in love.

Costner gallantly leaves the spotlight to Joan Allen, who, as Terry Wolfmeyer, a woman jilted and abandoned by her husband, rages through the movie like a modern-day Medea.

Terry is another boozer, an angry shrew whose marital grief has her biting the heads off anyone who tries to get close. That includes her four ripe daughters (Erika Christensen, Keri Russell, Alicia Witt and Evan Rachel Wood) and the shambling neighbor, Denny Davies (Costner), who drops by when he has nothing else to do, which is often.

Denny, beer can and inappropriate giggle in tow, plops himself unbidden on the sofa and hangs out until he becomes a fixture in the Wolfmeyer household.

Costner and Allen are the perfect actors for a movie that can't have been easy to shop -- two relatively indifferent suburban neighbors, each with a host of unattractive qualities, come at a relationship from left field.

It is truly left field for Denny, a washed-up baseball player who, despite hosting duties on a radio show, doesn't have much going for him. His most endearing trait is that he accepts his limitations, and in that small thing he is a big man.

Fierce character

Terry is also not a high achiever. She's an angry, middle-aged woman who won't play nice. Ever since her husband left -- presumably with the Swedish number he was seeing -- Terry says what's on her mind, early, loudly and often. Her neck muscles clench into ropes. Her daughters are appalled and amused, but mostly appalled.

I've never taken to Allen. There's no doubt about her talent, but I find her cold and asexual. She turns precisely those qualities to Terry's advantage, a rarity considering how few angry women we have been allowed to admire onscreen.

Terry's fierceness is exhilarating. It's easy to understand why Denny, whose baseball career probably attracted its share of bimbos, would find this a turn-on.

Each of the daughters is well drawn and acted, giving this romance an unusually realistic family dimension, and possibly opening the movie to a wider audience.

The other major character is Shep, a combination sidekick, facilitator and Greek chorus. You can see why writer-director Mike Binder took this part for himself. Shep is another mess of unattractive contradictions that somehow resolve themselves nicely -- you can equally laugh with him and at him -- and he gets to deliver a showstopping speech about why he's glad he's so shallow.

In making such an appealing movie about characters who are usually swept under the Hollywood rug, Binder does us all a service. He entertains, certainly. But he also conveys how the uglier emotions occupy a necessary, if delicate, place alongside the lovelier ones.




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