Cinema Signal:

The Bourne Supremacy
Joan Allen's singular take on a CIA spymaster
Matt Damon as rogue agent Bourne

. "The Upside of Anger"

Oh, that Joan Allen -- what a presence she is. Even when she's a vessel of anger and rage as devastated wife and mother Terry Wolfmeyer she commands attention and respect. And, perhaps sympathy for her is unwavering -- even while demanding adherence to rules in her household with 4 daughters -- because she has reason. Her husband has gone without a word. Disappeared -- presumably for Sweden with his attractive Swedish "assistant" at work.

Denny Davies (Kevin Costner), old family friend, is sympathetic about her loss -- but not extravagantly so. In fact, he's been carrying a torch for the lady for years. And, he's ready, if not more eager than he can say at the moment, to fill the gap. He has a true love and heartfelt attachment to the entire Wolfmeyer clan, daughters Andy (Erika Christensen), "Popeye" (Evan Rachel Wood), Emily (Keri Russell) and Hadley (Alicia Witt). Beauties growing up; no shrinking violets among 'em.

Terry is all too knowing about Denny's motives and it's way too soon to be doing anything positive. Better to take a while for an appropriate period of alcohol lubricated self pity and enough rage to let everyone know what she's going through. Denny as a replacement lover can wait until her hurt subsides. But Denny is sensitive and there when he's needed, not too pushy, nicely supportive. And the chemistry between them is active quite beyond their common taste for what comes out of a vodka bottle.

Denny is an ex- local baseball hero who has a radio show in which he discusses everything except the game. He's done with that, even though his producer, and all-around womanizer Adam "Shep" Goodman (writer-director Mike Binder) has trouble keeping the show on the air without baseball talk. Everyone knows the nature of Denny's draw. It's just that, well, the guy has issues concerning lost opportunities in life and career and he doesn't want it repeatedly thrown in his face like a bad pitch.

Learning that beautiful Erika wants to get into production, he arranges an interview with Shep who has no need for an assistant or trainee... until she walks in. The slick lech's eyes immediately overcome business reticence and he turns unctuously welcoming. Her career is on the way. A physical relationship is too, to the further disgust of everyone else involved.

Lots of things are going on with this family, and it proves a slow boiling recipe for a family of individuals with their own needs. They're all keeping things together under a stalwart though emotionally wrecked matriarch feeling her way in the aftermath of a domestic earthquake. Allen is so adept in this role (as she is in "The Contender," "The Bourne Supremacy," and "The Notebook") that there could hardly be any thought of anyone else bringing it to life.

Costner takes us back to a better time in his career, say around 1988-89 when he was doing "Bull Durham" and "Field of Dreams." Here, he's the calmly intelligent man who can even be said to have some wisdom and emotional sensitivity while struggling with internal inadequacy. His best is on display here. There is no high-minded pretentiousness or futuristic heroism as in "Waterworld" and "The Postman." Which I emphasize because of the effect projects like those have had on his potential following. I say to those who may have given up on him: "C'mon back. Take another look." This is as good as he can deliver.

Somebody slipped Hollywood a dysfunctional family pill in recent months. Writers are writing stories about families as though it was top commercial fare, and studios are buying them. The trend has brought us a rich vein to mine, with "A Love Story for Bobby Long," "Around the Bend," "Imaginary Heroes," the upcoming "The Ballad of Jack & Rose" and other glimpses into offbeat household settings.

Each is a unique take on the genre, however, and this one is a good attempt at a character based suburbian drama edged with droll, ironic humor, and a superb ensemble cast to pull it off. Maybe not perfect, perhaps too extended and diffused at times, but a better than average dip into the family well, especially with Allen's zesty hold on her character's turbulent coping mechanisms and our fascination with her craft.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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Joan Allen and Kevin Costner
Facing her loss


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