Mike Binder

Costner as Denny Davies

Mike Binder’s
latest movie, The Upside of Anger, begins with a lingering
shot of Joan Allen’s face, her porcelain skin pulled taut,
her eyes riveted ahead and rimmed with tears. The film goes on
to spend the bulk of its time on that face which, over the course
of two hours, expresses a gamut of emotions, most of them drawn
from the palette of anger—pure, clean fury, bitter frustration,
spiteful jealousy and maternal wrath.

Allen plays Terry Wolfmeyer, an upper-middle-class
wife whose equilibrium is shattered by the disappearance of her
husband. Suspecting him of leaving the country with his young secretary,
Allen effectively falls apart, spending her afternoons staring
at the TV, dressed in nothing more than a negligee and a gin and
tonic stupor. Her four just-grown daughters move through the house
on tiptoes, avoiding—as
best they can—the fragile ice of their mother’s emotions.

"I set out to do kind of a parable on misplaced anger," explains
Binder. "There were experiences I’d had in my own life
and talks I’d had with friends about the energy we put toward
things that ultimately never come to pass, or never really were what
we thought they were to begin with. I think, in general, we do that
in our day-to-day life and we also do that in our society. We rant
and we rave and yet we don’t really know what to be upset about
at any given time. And that’s where I started with this film."

Erika Christensen and Evan Rachel Wood as
Andy and Lavender Wolfmeyer in The Upside of Anger.

Binder has been combining his writing,
directing and acting skills for some time now. The 45-year old
Detroit native is a well-respected character actor and screenwriter
whose credits include various television series as well as high
profile roles in Rod Lurie’s The Contender and Steven Spielberg’s Minority
Report
. The Upside of Anger is a project Binder had been working on for some time, writing in
between tapings of his critically-acclaimed HBO series, "The
Mind of the Married Man."

"I write a lot and most of the time my agent and my manager
just tell me to shelve it," laughs Binder. "But for some
reason this script hit a chord with people and everyone responded.
I showed it to a lot of people and everyone had something to say
about it—something good—which I hadn’t really expected.
It’s funny because I was doing it for myself; I didn’t
have a lot invested in the script in terms of expectations, and it
just sort of evolved as I wrote it. And then, suddenly women were
calling me up from the agency saying, ‘You don’t know
me, but I just read your script and I loved it.’ I think there’s
something about Terry’s anger. However irrational, there’s
just something about it that we can all relate to."

In The Upside of
Anger
, that anger finally
begins to ebb as comic relief arrives, knocking at the back door
in the form of Denny Davies (a wonderful Kevin Costner), a soft-spoken,
rather soft-brained neighbor who is a former baseball star going
to seed in the suburbs. Eventually, and unexpectedly, an ad hoc
friendship forms between Terry and Denny, sprung from a mutual
loneliness and shared surrender. The two are merely waiting out
a long string of afternoons and it surprises them both when they
begin to take some pleasure in each other’s
company.

Kevin Costner and Mike Binder review a scene.

For Binder, the film provided a chance to allow his characters the
kind of canvas he craves: A film that utilizes emotional range rather
than action scenes, explosions and special effects.

"We didn’t do a lot of razzmatazz," he
says. "We
didn’t build it up or make it complicated and that was really
by design… because then the film has to really deal with the
people in front of the camera. There are no fireworks going off at
any place in this movie, other than in Joan."

Allen is nothing short of spectacular
in the film and the ensemble cast of young actresses—Erika Christensen, Keri Russell, Alicia
Witt and Evan Rachel Wood—circle around her, each gaining something
tangible from the proximity to Allen’s talent. Wood, in particular,
is pitch-perfect as the baby of the family, observing her mother’s
disillusionment with a Zen calm and a touch of adolescent bemusement.

"We didn’t do a lot of razzmatazz.
We didn’t build it up or make it complicated and that
was by design… because then the film has to deal with the
people in front of the camera."

Terry Wolfmeyer is simultaneously tragic
and comic and the film doesn’t
shy away from this fascinating contradiction. Allen and Binder allow
Terry to evolve into a nuanced, multifaceted character, a woman who
feels remarkably authentic. It’s this realism that allows us
to love her even when she’s spitting nails. We find ourselves
rooting for her, cheering her on, despite her weaknesses.

"I had worked with Joan on The
Contender
," recalls Binder. "She saw a movie I did and asked me
to write a script for her. I think Joan is one of the best actresses
working in the business; she’s really underrated. I think
she’s an amazing person—and
she’s also the hardest working person I know. She brings
the most skills to the table and she’s not stingy with
them. She’s
like, ‘Let’s rifle through the box, any color you
want, I’m here to play.’ She had this amazing ability
to turn the knob to another level."

An unexpected friendship forms between Costner
and Joan Allen’s characters in The Upside of Anger.

Costner gives one of the better performances
of his career as a man whose past success has left him with nothing
for which to prepare for his future life. Yet despite his paralysis,
Denny is surprisingly charming and optimistic—baffled by
circumstance, but relentless in his good intentions.

"I liked Kevin Costner for that role from the beginning," says
Binder. "I was a comedian for years and I guess Kevin used
to come in and see my show. So he took a look at the script and said
he wanted to do it. I think he saw his character like an old English
sheepdog, like a big fluffy dog that wanders through the neighborhood
and winds up at the back door. And this is the backdoor which he
came in and never left. I find the story interesting from his character’s
point of view. He’s just kind of waiting for the next game,
the next thing to fill his life," Binder laughs.

"It’s easy for actors to surprise you," he says
of Costner’s incredible performance. "I think with a
lot of actors working today, you’re just seeing the tip of
the iceberg of what they can do, because of the kind of movies being
made. I’m doing a movie with Ben Affleck right now (Man
About Town
) and every day I’m thinking, ‘Why don’t people
know what kind of talent this guy’s got?’ He’s
similar to Joan in that he can hit every color and mark. You just
haven’t seen him do it, because in that big studio world that
he and guys like Costner put themselves in, the stories and the roles
are just not all that interesting. It’s like having a great
racehorse that never runs."

“Suddenly women were calling me saying, ‘You
don’t know me, but I just read your script and I loved
it.’ I think there’s something about Terry’s
anger—however
irrational—thatwe
can all relate to.”

This is, without a doubt, one of the
main reasons why Binder continues writing and directing. He’s got his own hilarious turn in The
Upside of Anger
as a sleazy radio producer who seduces a Wolfmeyer
daughter. But it’s his insistence on making the kind
of films he wants to be in that lends the movie the same kind
of giddy, proud defiance embodied in Terry Wolfmeyer herself.

"It’s hard for me to get movies going, because I demand
a lot of control. I just don’t want to make a movie and put
it through the system," he admits. "But this one
came together pretty easily; it just felt good. Every movie
is hard to make, but this one was so filled with emotion. I
think part of the reason it worked is that everyone got along
so well; they became a sort of real family. We took over this
house in England and everyone spent a lot of great time together.

"Basically, it’s exactly what I want to be doing. I just
want to make movies that are real and feel good and honest and I
want to be able to keep making them. And I think as long as you try
to do that, try to make things that mean something to you and not
get caught up in the desire for money or counting numbers, then you’ll
be okay. I really believe that." MM

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