Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, but rarely do movies devote themselves to such an unseemly emotion. The Upside of Anger, which stars Joan Allen as a suburban housewife whose husband has run off with his Swedish secretary, isn't just devoted to female resentment. It's all but destroyed by it. As Terry Wolfmeyer, a woman left in charge of four daughters ranging in age from 15 to 22, Allen is allowed to vent her spleen for two straight hours, and nobody, I mean nobody, vents her spleen like Allen. When those cords in her neck start to tighten and her eyes narrow into that withering stare, watch out. The venom will burn your skin like acid.
Unfortunately, The Upside of Anger is a comedy; and Allen, although she looks like she belongs on "Desperate Housewives," is no comedian. Enter Kevin Costner as the next-door neighbor, a former major-league baseball star now reduced to mall openings and ball signings. It's been a while since Costner moseyed through a movie, counting on his easygoing charm to keep us watching. And the character he plays here, a lonely bachelor who just kind of insinuates himself into the Wolfmeyer household, sitting back and sniffing the estrogen wafting through the air, harks back to Bull Durham and Tin Cup. Alas, 10 and 20 years later, Costner's over-the-hill jock number is itself starting to seem over the hill.
Written and directed by Mike Binder, who inflicted HBO's "The Mind of the Married Man" on us, The Upside of Anger doesn't try to prettify an ugly emotion. But its strengths are its weaknesses. Drowning her sorrows in booze, Terry has trouble getting on with her life, and so does the movie. It's so determined to show us the downside of anger that it rarely gets around to the upside, which is a problem for a comedy. The scenes I enjoyed the most were the ones in which the daughters -- Evan Rachel Wood, Keri Russell, Erika Christensen and Alicia Witt -- are in the kitchen making dinner. Yes, dad's gone and mom's gone nuts, but that's no reason to stop kidding around.