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Originally published Friday, March 18, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

Little downside to Allen's "Upside" performance

"The Upside of Anger" has problems besides its ungainly title. It begins at the end and ends at the beginning, with a final surprise twist...

Special to The Seattle Times

"The Upside of Anger" has problems besides its ungainly title.

It begins at the end and ends at the beginning, with a final surprise twist that leaves you scratching your head and rethinking everything in the middle — one of those movies that has you arguing with yourself on the way out to the parking garage. "But wait a second, if that's what happened, then ... huh?" There's a serious black hole at the heart of the plot.

In retrospect, nothing about the movie quite makes sense. But of course no one watches a movie in retrospect; everyone watches it as it unfolds. And as it unfolds, "Upside" has considerable charm. Joan Allen and Kevin Costner star, and both give performances that are very pleasantly surprising.

Allen is unquestionably the center of the film. She plays Terry Wolfmeyer, a Michigan housewife whose life falls apart when her husband skips the country with his young Swedish secretary. Over the next couple of years, she struggles to raise her four teenage daughters while becoming a self-pitying lush. She is deeply committed to nursing her grievances.

Movie review 3 stars

"The Upside of Anger," with Kevin Costner, Joan Allen, Evan Rachel Wood, Erika Christensen, Mike Binder, Alicia Witt, Keri Russell. Written and directed by Binder. 116 minutes. Rated R for language, sexual situations, brief comic violence and some drug use. Several theaters.

Costner plays a pudgy, retired baseball player named Denny Davies who lives down the street in Terry's upscale neighborhood. He becomes first her drinking buddy and then, almost accidentally, her boyfriend. What works best about the movie is the ingratiating chemistry between the two. Both are cast against type, with Costner as a shambling, sloppy, easygoing loser.

Allen, for all the acclaim she has accrued in such films as "The Ice Storm," has always seemed to me one of the world's most beautiful mannequins. She made a career of turning her face, with its breathtaking Faye Dunaway planes, toward the light, and basking expressionlessly in the glow of the camera.

Here she exhibits an unexpected flair for comedy: In one scene, on a whim, she decides that she will, after all, sleep with Denny. She calls to notify him of her decision — "I'm not going to do much with my face, though" — and to tell him that she's on her way. Denny promptly flees in terror.

She tells her daughters that she's not going to trash their father to them — even though he is "a vile, selfish, horrible pig." In another priceless vignette, Allen simply stares, speechless with rage, at Shep (played with smarmy low-key charm by the movie's writer-director, Mike Binder), the grubby older man who is sleeping with one of her daughters (ably played by Seattle native Erika Christensen).

Though this is not the type of serious film likely to win many awards, Allen gives one of her best performances. She demonstrates a surprising range and nuance. It's her film, and she carries it. And if the movie doesn't quite make sense in the end, that doesn't stop it from being a lot of fun to watch.

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