Film Reviews


By • Apr 1st, 2005 •

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Released by NEW LINE
MPAA: Rated R / Running time: 116 minutes


The upside is there’s no downside to this absolute jewel, and a veritable shoo-in at next year’s Academy Awards for a myriad of categories.

It should also put to rest the standard critics’ lament that any film opening between Groundhog Day and the Easter Egg Hunt isn’t worth the price of admission. By any standards, UPSIDE is superb cinema, and Joan Allen’s Oscar-worthy role as good as it gets. (see Note below.)

In a tour de force lasting almost two hours, she scintillates as she sulks, slinks around in shmatas, smokes up a storm and liberally swigs vodka straight in a virtually dazzling acting coup. But Allen’s not alone here. After what seemed an interminable wait, Kevin Costner comes through with his best performance in years. (If Steve McQueen were around, it’s the type of role he’d play; and in fact, Costner at times resembles the late icon of nihilism.) He’s utterly magnetic!

PLOT: The suburban Wolfmeyers are an idyllic nuclear family. Okay, 4 kids instead of 2 and all girls. But their Eden implodes after the father fails to return home one night after work. (Rumor has it he ran off to Sweden with his young secretary.)

What’s a mother to do? In this case, subsisting on booze and self-pity, mom Terry (Allen) succeeds in alienating her tweenage-to-college offspring by abject neglect. She’s aware of it too. “I have 4 daughters, one who hates me, two or three who are leaning that way.”

Costner is Denny, her almost vacuous slob of a next-door neighbor and drinking buddy, who insinuates himself into the household (and Terry’s bed) as her erstwhile suitor and surrogate father to the clan. He’s a retired baseball hero—now a radio DJ, who moonlights selling real estate and signing hardballs to his legion of fans for extra cash.

Then there’s his show’s producer Shep (writer/director Binder, this time wearing his acting cap and terrific at it). When Terry’s nubile daughter Andy (Erika Christensen) decides to pass up college for a job at the station, he hires her as his assistant after just one look. (No wonder. She’s a looker. He’s a sleaze.)

Andy’s sisters have their problems too, exacerbated by feelings they’ve been abandoned by both parents. Hadley (Alicia Witt), pregnant and a college senior, wants an Mrs. along with an M.A.; Emily (Keri Russell), a gifted ballerina and emotionally anorectic, is starved for her mom’s approval; and Popeye (Evan Rachel Wood), the headstrong runt of the litter, hungers for affection from an equally lonely classmate who turns out to be gay.

In other words, everyone’s hurting. Or, as Popeye, the film’s narrator says, “Anger & resentment can stop you in your tracks.”

But UPSIDE is no downer. The realism of the acting, dialogue and approach to real life problems transcends mere entertainment. It’s an uplifting, memorable experience.

If there’s a moral to this movie—as the old joke goes: with all the manure piling up, there has to be a pony somewhere. And Mike Binder, a Triple Crown winner here, has found it. In his brilliant scenario, the pony is a thoroughbred, revealed with a humor and wit that would have made Noel Coward proud. Binder’s complex comedy of manners is replete with enough smiles, smirks and on-the-mark sarcasm to keep everyone thoroughly enthralled. He’s a likely Oscar candidate too.

Critic’s Note: I seldom stick my neck out on such predictions—especially with films opening so early in the year. Yet in the past decade, my track record for Best Actress is 4 for 4: Jodie Foster in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (Feb. ’91), Emma Thompson in HOWARDS END (Mar. ’92), Frances McDormand in FARGO (Mar. ’96), and Julia Roberts in ERIN BROCKOVICH (Mar. ’02)

To that list, it’s no stretch to add Ms. Allen, especially after a second screening to confirm. Since ’96, she’s already racked up three nominations (for NIXON, THE CRUCIBLE, THE CONTENDER)—so this could be her year.

Joan Allen (Terry Wolfmeyer); Kevin Costner (Denny Davies); Erika Christensen (Andy Wolfmeyer); Evan Rachel Wood (Lavender “Popeye” Wolfmeyer); Keri Russell (Emily Wolfmeyer); Alicia Witt (Hadley Wolfmeyer); Mike Binder (Adam “Shep” Goodman); Tom Harper (David Junior); Dane Christensen (Gorden Reiner); Danny Webb (Grey Wolfmeyer); Magdalena Manville (Darlene); Suzanne Bertish (Gina); David Firth (David Senior); Rod Woodruff (Dean Reiner); Stephen Greif Emily’s Doctor; Arthur Penhallow (DJ Arthur P); Richard Mylan (Disc Jockey); Robert Perkins (Town Car Man); William Tapley (Dr. Lewis); Owen Oakeshott (Builder Foreman); Bella Sabbagh (Radio Station Receptionist)

Written/Directed by Mike Binder.
Producers: Alex Gartner, Jack Binder Sammy Lee
Executive producers: Mark Damon, Stewart Hall, Andreas Grosch, Andreas Schmid
Director of Photography: Richard Greatrex, BSC
Editors: Steve Edwards, Robin Sales
Music: Alexandre Desplat
Production Designer: Chris Roope
Costume Designer: Deborah Scott

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