What's most satisfying about The Upside of Anger is the way in which it takes the stock characters and predictable situations that you're probably expecting, and not only makes sure to avoid them, but also throws you for a loop when various plot threads turn out in unexpected ways.
As the rattled matriarch of four wildly different daughters, Joan Allen is just fantastic. Were The Upside of Anger held until this November, you'd be hearing a whole lot of "Oscar Buzz" for Ms. Allen, but perhaps she'll earn the nomination anyway; her performance here is just that good. And she's flanked by a fantastic foursome of young females; Evan Rachel Wood, Erika Christensen, Keri Russell, and Alicia Witt portray the various Wolfmeyer daughters, and each one brings a few unique shadings to the canvas.
Toss in a rascally ol' performance by the likable version of Kevin Costner, and a great supporting turn by writer/director Mike Binder (as a skeevy horndog who likes the younger ladies), and you're looking at a movie packed with great performances.
But ultimately it's Mr. Binder's screenplay that stands out as the film's biggest asset. Part soap opera, part grown-up sitcom, and part suburban tragedy, The Upside of Anger is just a little indie-arthouse flick you may have overlooked until now ... but now that the movie's available on DVD, you've no excuse for not giving it a spin.
And let's just briefly give it up for the multi-talented Mike Binder. Over the years he's done stand-up comedy, character actor performances, and lots of solid screenwriting (he wrote the criminally overlooked Indian Summer, among others). OK, he DID direct Blankman, too, but that seems like one work-for-hire aberration in a rather impressive indie-centric career.
First up is a rather excellent audio commentary with writer/director/character actor Mike Binder, his leading lady Joan Allen, and film critic turned moviemaker Rod Lurie (as the moderator). The trio of commentators digress into chit-chat from time to time, but overall they still firmly on topic, divulging all sorts of Upside info while giving the listeners a whole lot to chew on. Quality yak-track here.
There's also a 27-minute behind-the-scenes featurette entitled Creating The Upside of Anger, which features on-set footage, clips, and interviews with the likes of Mike Binder, Joan Allen, Kevin Costner, Erika Christensen, Evan Rachel Wood, Keri Russell, Alicia Witt, producers Alex Gartner & Jack Binder, and film critic Wade Major. Just like the commentary, this featurette is straightforward, informative, and very well-crafted.
Rounding out this satisfying little DVD are a collection of eight deleted scenes and a bunch of trailers for The Upside of Anger, Laws of Attraction, The Notebook, About Schmidt, and Pleasantville.