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New Line Home Cinema presents
"He's a vile, selfish, horrible pig. But you know what? I'm not going to trash him to you girls."
DVD ReviewIf you're a filmmaker looking for a muse, it's hard to imagine a more inspired choice than Joan Allen. She's the best thing about this movie, giving a performance full of nuance and depth and specificity; it's the kind of work that gets an actor showered with accolades and awards, and it's a fair bet that a few of the latter may be coming her way next spring. Mike Binder's whole movie isn't up to her high standard, but there's a lot here that's smart and funny, even if after a time the story sort of loses its way, and the payoff in the last moments of the movie's set-up is flat-out preposterous. But there's enough good stuff along the way from Allen and her leading man, Kevin Costner, in his best work in years, to make it worth a look.
Allen plays Terry Wolfmeyer, upscale housewife in the tony suburbs of Detroit, the mother of four daughters, whose husband has just plain up and disappeared—convinced that the rat has run off with his Swedish secretary, Terry will not as much as place a phone call to the bastard. Moving in on her quickly, from down the block, is Denny (Costner), with one eye on her, another on the lot behind the Wolfmeyer house—Denny is the front man for some real estate developers, and needs Terry to sign off on the construction of a new subdivision. The oldest of Terry's daughters is just finishing college; the youngest, just starting high school. How she starts anew, as an abandoned single mom, is where this movie lives, and if its narrative isn't always on the tracks, it's terrific as a character study. Allen's Terry brims with anger and resentment—at her husband, at her girls, at the world—and she drinks too much vodka to numb the pain; it doesn't work, but that's no reason not to keep trying, so the Bloody Marys are mixed fast and furious. There's been sort of an iciness to Allen on film; the warmth that she projected on stage in such plays as Burn This and The Heidi Chronicles didn't really find its way to the screen until now. Here she's really just amazing, wickedly funny, self-involved and self-aware, kind of a monster of a mother, but kind of endearing, too. It's just a great performance.
Costner's Denny is a former major league ballplayer, who makes his living as a radio talk show host and signing stuff at memorabilia shows; it's a great riff on his performances in such iconic baseball movies as Bull Durham and Field of Dreams, and he seems to be having fun goofing on his established on-screen persona. Also, there's no doubt that the role is a clear nod in the direction of the part played by Jack Nicholson in Terms of Endearment—the middle-aged neighbor of the problematic single mother, a man whose profession was the fulfillment of a boyhood dream, and plans to dine out on that fading glory for the rest of his years. The first portion of the movie is about the tentative and peculiar courtship of Denny and Terry, and it's unquestionably the best part of the movie.
Focus gets thrown to the daughters as the running time goes on; they're just not as interesting, really, and you feel the movie running out of steam. Alicia Witt plays the oldest, who springs news of her boyfriend and their engagement on Mom on the day of her college graduation; Keri Russell is Emily, who wants to be a dancer, but who Terry is intent on seeing go to school in Ann Arbor. Popeye is the youngest, played by Evan Rachel Wood; her interest in a new boy in school is nicely done, but an obvious and unnecessary framing story—her narrating a video project for school—is an unconvincing device. The most fun of the four is Andy, played by Erika Christensen; instead of going to college, she gets a job as an assistant producer at Denny's radio station, and soon starts sleeping with the boss, a creep called Shep, played by the film's writer/director. Binder is genuinely funny in the role, especially when he takes on his girlfriend's mother; still, it's with Terry and Denny that we really want to spend our time, and their relationship is sort of played out long before the running time of the film is up. The late reveal of a crucial story point makes you feel a little bit like the whole thing is a fraud; to say that it's lacking in plausibility is a profoundly generous description. But by then you've probably made up your mind about the movie, and I'd wager that Allen's work is enough to keep you hanging in there, even if the end is a serious disappointment.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: Color palette is a little brassy, but the transfer seems to be a clean one, with consistently rich tones throughout.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: Some static problems, and a lot of room tone, on the 2.0 track particularly; but the dialogue is rendered with sufficient clarity.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Laws of Attraction, The Notebook, About Schmidt, Pleasantville
8 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Mike Binder, Joan Allen, Rod Lurie
Creating The Upside of Anger (27m:52s) features interviews with those on both sides of the camera; the producers discuss the problems with securing financing, and why, for economic reasons, the movie was shot in and around London. (The production team did a great job making it pass as Michigan.) There's also a career overview for Binder, rising from standup comedian to filmmaker; he and Costner seem to have done a fair amount of male bonding on this set dominated by women. You'll find credits for the DVD under the New Line logo on the main menu, and if you've got a PC with a DVD-ROM drive, you can access the movie's screenplay, as well as link to websites for the film and for its distributor. (Those of us in the other camp have said this many times before, but here we are again—when are you going to show us Mac users the same kind of love?)
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsJoan Allen belongs in the first tier of actresses currently working in film, and her role here gives her an opportunity to show some colors that haven't been seen in some of her other work. Mike Binder's movie doesn't cohere all that well, but it's got some very funny and touching things in it, and the work from Allen and Costner make it worth a look.
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