The Upside of Anger (2005)

Rating:   (broken-hearted)

Maps of the Heart Nutshell: all hope of a woman’s even slightly uplifting character arc is shredded when she’s seen to be nothing but another faithless MB (Mean B*tch)
OR
HGGs (Helluva Great Guys) deal with MBs
OR
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned… **yawn**

*Spoilers*
A good woman expresses grief and outrage over her husband’s infidelity & sudden departure and then slowly begins to heal, only to have all motive & validation knocked out from under her, not to mention any semblance of a heroic character arc, when she discovers her husband was innocent, and she was a faithless beyotch.

To start with, I loath the saying, “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”  A quick glance at domestic violence statistics show quite the opposite is true. Of course it was a man who penned it, William Congreve in his 1697 play “The Mourning Bride,” who wrote, “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.”  Ah, the 1600s, those enlightening times when women were burned for being witches and Shakespeare called Joan of Arc a whore.  But I digress.  Let’s move on to the enlightenment of the present.

I went to this movie with high hopes when I learned that the writer/director, Mike Binder, wrote it with Joan Allen in mind, but quickly found myself in familiar territory.  A HGG (Helluva Great Guy) does his best to deal with a MB (Mean Beyotch) who finally becomes a nicer, humbled MB, but not for any reasons that would approach self-validating, much less heroic.

Any movie gives us a perspective on the world view of the writer and/or director, and so it was for Mr. Binder, who discusses this on the DVD extra, explaining that his movies “have always been very much about what I’m going through in my life…that his parents were divorced when he was 14 and his mother “went through a very angry time.”

Allen explains her husband’s sudden disappearance to her daughters – his young secretary just went home to Sweden and her husband obviously went with her.  Obviously.  Allen, who was just described in the title sequence as “the nicest and sweetest woman that anyone who knew her ever knew,”  is suddenly “a very sad and bitter woman.”

Oh, she’s worse than that.  Allen immediately becomes an alcoholic who eviscerates her sweet daughters when she’s not ignoring them, which leaves Costner, the long-suffering HGG (LSHGG), to try to appease the constant female drama around him, which he does well, on account of he’s an HGG.  As a male producer comments on the DVD extras, Costner’s character is “loveably flawed.”  Joan Allen has no loveable flaws.  She is just mean and angry.

Not surprisingly, the men get all the heroic, long-suffering speeches.  Costner, the laid-back, fun-loving, heroic, long-suffering puppy to Joan Allen’s rottweiller (finally) defends himself, saying, “I am so sick of being your bitch. I put up with your shit because I know how much pain you’re in! But it’s ENOUGH! It’s a tall order for a patient motherfucker, and I am the furthest thing from that that you’re ever going to lay eyes on.” He walks away, a living lesson in self-respect for HGGs who are hanging around trying to appease MBs.

But he also gets the lovable speeches, for example, when he shows his family values and appreciation for Joan Allen’s daughters, when all she’s done is beyotch at them.  Costner is both sweet and consoling:

Costner: “even when no one’s talking it’s loud.  But at least it’s fuckin’ real.  When I’m with you, with your girls, I feel like there’s still a big chunk of my life still to be played out.  And that’s what I want to talk about, not… baseball.
Allen: I’ve had my heart broken really bad, Denny.  It’s not the kind of thing that ever heals.
Costner: Yeah, it does. It heals. It just heals funny. You know, you more or less walk… with a limp.

Yup, he’s a HGG.

Writer/director/actor Binder gives himself two great speeches.  He (ostensibly humbly) paints himself as a jerk who hires and then dates/sleeps with Joan Allen’s teenage daughter, but underneath, he’s a laid-back lovable HGG, too!  [Note: most men find it impossible to write/direct men as anything but HGGs, even supposed villains, while women are zero-dimensional MBs or HYBs (Hot Young Babes).  It’s pretty funny and sad when you start to realize it.]  Binder has a drunk Joan Allen slapping him around, knocking him to the ground in full view of everyone at her daughter’s wedding (though strangely no one seems to notice).  He (finally) defends himself, saying,

“Who should I sleep with, Terry? Women like you? Your age? My age? I don’t. You know why? ‘Cause younger women are nice. You take them out, and they’re actually grateful. ‘Oh look, a steak. Yummy.’ You go for a walk after dinner, the air smells nice, they say, ‘Thank you. This was nice. This was fun. You’re funny. Tee-hee-hee.’ What should I do, Terry? Settle down and marry some pissed-off thing like you? I’d rather have someone come over and do dental work, every day, from my backside, up through my ass!”

And he walks away, justifying why HGGs go for HYBs (Hot Young Babes) and why all women over the age of 30 are not worth their time.  Duly noted.

And when the teen daughter breaks up with the supposed jerk Binder, note that he is impossibly heroic, pointedly displaying not an ounce of anger, even when she pulls the mean & beyotchy kidney punch of intimating that she’s been faking orgasms (a MB in the making?).  Then she has the nerve to ask if they’re still going to be able to work together!   Suddenly a father figure, he’s not only cool and supportive, but complimentary, too!

“You know what?  It was inevitable.  Don’t be sorry.  You’re right.  It was bound to happen.  Right? …It’s gonna be fine.  It doesn’t matter, ’cause you’re not gonna be here that much longer anyway.  This place is too small-time for you.  You’re gonna be long gone, real soon.” The MB-in-training looks at him with surprised gratitude, realizing he’s one HGG, and then he gives her a big (platonic) hug!  Awwww.  Cause that’s the way even arsehole HGGs roll, making them superior to MBs everywhere.  Even Joan Allen.  Duly noted.

And in the end, just when it looks like Allen is coming to grips with her anger and might actually have a a trace of a triumphant story arc, in one swift, shocking move, the writer knocks away her newly-earned nobility, even her slim thread of validation, and makes her just another faithless shrew, while her husband was, in fact, a HGG all along.

In the DVD extras, which include a male movie reviewer and male producer, Binder is the laid-back HGG, saying ” I just kinda came at anger from the point of view that it’s really such a waste of time, ’cause you never know the whole story.”  Which is fine and commendable, but sometimes anger is more than justified and provides the courage to change or get out of adverse or abusive circumstances.  After millennia of lessons/stories/books/plays/music/movies on how women should stuff their anger and be “nice”/submissive, here is yet another instructional video.

Binder says the movie is about anger, but this movie is strictly about women’s anger.  Joan Allen gets angry, sometimes firing her daughters’ anger, but the men remain HGGs.  This is brought home by a revealing segment of a documentary on their TV, where MBs from foreign countries get violent while the calm male narrator voices over: “Here, in rural Botswana, an unfaithful tribeswoman is brought to a field by a group of locals for a ritualized punishment of beating and harassment.  Events quickly spiral out of control for the tribesmen, though as the woman’s fury becomes too great to contain and the men are quickly forced to flee for their safety.”

Ouch.  And then they call it a “woman’s movie” and wonder why women aren’t lined up around the block to see it.  And somewhere a Hollywood Studio Soup Nazi sees that it didn’t do as well as the latest frat boy pic or male cartoon character tent pole, and shouts  “No more Women’s Movies for you!”

Cause that’s the way Studio Nazi HGGs roll.

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