We gave it a B
Most actors treat aging as something to be ashamed of. Either they work overtime to look rugged and fit beyond their years (not that there’s anything wrong with that), or they turn into wax-dummy versions of their former selves, like John Travolta in Be Cool. Kevin Costner, though, was playing past his prime when he was still a matinee idol (notably in Bull Durham), and a certain grizzled, gone-to-seed dishevelment has always looked good on him. It’s part of his unforced masculine grace — his willingness, more than that of most stars, to undercut his own vanity.
In Mike Binder’s The Upside of Anger, Costner plays yet another over-the-hill sports paragon, a retired Detroit Tigers star named Denny Davies who coasts through his days in a genial haze of booze and faded celebrity. Denny, who hosts a talk-radio show in which he likes to ramble on about everything but his glory days, keeps the money flowing in by signing baseballs and showing up to open the occasional mall. It’s a living, of sorts, but not quite a life, and no one knows that better than Denny. That’s why he’s eager to hook up with Terry (Joan Allen), a battle-scarred suburban housewife with a big woodsy colonial home, four beautiful daughters (and I do mean beautiful — they’re played by Erika Christensen, Keri Russell, Alicia Witt, and Evan Rachel Wood), and a husband who has apparently run off with his secretary. Gulping Grey Goose cocktails before noon, Terry is as big a lush as Denny, but more than that, the two fit together. They’re drinking buddies and dissolute soul mates; it’s up to Denny to show her that they could be more.
To do that, he’s got to break down the wall of her stubborn rage. Joan Allen, with her gift for tensile hostility, makes Terry a forceful, at times ripely comic, creation: a woman who has had her blinders, and manners, ripped away by despair. Now she says whatever comes into her head, strangely liberated by her ordeal. The film’s tone, however, remains gentle and affectionate, a shade too evenhanded. Since everyone around Terry knows that she’s ”acting out” her pain, they all cut her the appropriate slack. I kept thinking, How did four daughters this non-neurotic emerge from a mother this high-strung? The Upside of Anger is overly therapized, yet Costner and Allen show you what it means not just to play a role but to inhabit it.