The Upside Of Anger jumps off the screen into our hearts as a powerful whirlwind of emotions with fascinating, provocative questions about family and the elusive emotion of anger with which most of us seem to flirt on a daily basis. (If you commute to work in a big city, that sentence might better read “hourly basis.”)
The story revolves around a woman (Joan Allen) who awakens one morning to find that her husband, with no warning, has simply gone, never to return. With four daughters to raise, she slips–actually, plunges– into a world of anger, bitterness, and the solace of daily bottles of vodka. Her neighbor (Kevin Costner) becomes fascinated with Allen and her daughters and the film, totally based in character and emotions, plays out in the relationships among all of them.
Joan Allen is one of the most underestimated actresses in the world and she gives the Academy Award performance of a lifetime here. She takes a woman “on the brink”, so to speak, and plays her with every color of the acting rainbow, from tragic sorrow to soaring comedy, and she never misses a single beat. Not since Nicole Kidman in The Hours have I been as blown away by a portrayal as I was by Joan Allen in this film. Costner, too, has never been better. Together, he and Allen create a fascinating and very adult love story that is strikingly original and compelling.
Anger is indeed a powerful force that can literally sweep us up in its fiery grip and deposit us into a world where everyone around us reflects our own anger back to and at us. The four young women (from early teens to mid-twenties) who play Allen’s daughters are each brilliant and, most importantly, they illuminate the various manifestations of anger that can insidiously manifest in our children and in ourselves. Perhaps more than any film in recent memory, The Upside Of Anger brilliantly sketches the individual challenges that these four young women must face as a result of a single emotion of one of their parents.
Ultimately, the situation facing all the characters in the film turns out to be a moment of grace, one of those times in life when, usually in retrospect, we realize that our lives have been redirected by a powerful and seemingly invisible universal force. In her magnificent new book, The Unmistakable Touch of Grace, Cheryl Richardson defines these moments:
“Every event we experience and every person we meet has been put in our path for a reason. When we awaken to this fundamental truth, we begin to understand that a benevolent force of energy is available to guide and direct our lives. I call this energy the unmistakable touch of grace.”
Cheryl’s book eloquently and lovingly details those moments both in her own life and in the lives of dozens of others. ALL of us have experienced those moments, haven’t we? Moments that slip into our lives disguised as tragic or traumatic which ultimately result in significant growth. Ram Dass, for example, suffered a massive stroke several years back and emerged a changed and reinvigorated spiritual leader who, as a result of the stroke, was gifted with new insights.
(Personally, I pay VERY close attention to these moments, particularly when they arrive in multiples of three. Within a 2 week period, I read Cheryl’s book, saw The Upside Of Anger, and then we chose Fierce Grace, the brilliant documentary about the aftermath of Ram Dass’ stroke as a film for our May volume of The Spiritual Cinema Circle. Grace is, indeed, omnipresent.)
The Upside Of Anger is a classic film in Spiritual Cinema in that it truly asks the eternal questions of who we are and why we are here and also leaves us feeling better about being human beings when the film is finished. It also reminds us of how wonderful films can be when they trust the intelligence of their audience. I LOVED it…and I hope you do, too.
Stephen Simon produced such films as Somewhere in Time and What Dreams May Come, produced and directed Indigo, and will next be directing and producing the film version of Neale Donald Walsch’s Conversations with God. He also wrote The Force is With You: Mystical Movie Messages That Inspire Our Lives and co-founded The Spiritual Cinema Circle http://www.spiritualcinemacircle.com. Stephen welcomes your comments by email: Stephen @spiritualcinemacircle.com.