Dir/scr: Mike Binder. US.2004. 116mins.

Enigmatic stand-up comic,actor, writer and film-maker Mike Binder whose credits include Londiniumand The Sex Monster, has crafted an enigmatic fourth film in TheUpside Of Anger. The independently financed, star-studded affair is acurious blend of romantic comedy, women's melodrama and shaggy dog story whichhas a shot at making a dint in the world's specialised theatrical marketchiefly because of two superb central performances by Joan Allen and KevinCostner.

They make the filmseductive, despite a meandering pace, an unfocused mess of character strandsand the fatally flawed central premise that when a man goes missing one day,his wife automatically assumes he has left her and their four children and runoff with his Swedish secretary.

That conceit may pave theway for the rest of the drama, in which the Wolfmeyer family members cope withtheir presumed abandonment, but it demands a high level of suspension ofdisbelief from the audience that they wouldn't try to locate him or that hewouldn't once contact them.

Although it was originallyset to open at the end of last year in the US to qualify for awardsrecognition, the film was moved by domestic distributor New Line to March 11this year and should perform well with female audiences especially.

World premiered at Sundance,Upside can't bank on awards to help it at the box office initially,although Allen and Costner are both good enough to warrant attention in nextyear's Oscar race.

Media 8 Entertainment, whichfinanced the picture, has sold it in international territories where the starnames will help it find its feet theatrically. Ultimately it will sit morecomfortably everywhere on the small screen, and it will become a fixture onchannels targeted at women.

The film opens with afuneral attended by affluent suburban housewife Terry Wolfmeyer (Allen), herneighbour Denny (Costner) and one of her daughters Popeye (Wood). Wood'svoiceover doesn't reveal whose funeral they are attending, only that Terry wasonce a lovely, charming and kind woman who months earlier was poisoned by thedisappearance of her husband.

Binder then slides turnsback the clock to the morning after he fails to show up. Terry is devastatedand incensed, turns to drink and loses her patience with her girls. The affableDenny, a has-been baseball star now a DJ at a radio station living off hissporting career, tries to smooth her through the rough patch by drinking withher.

Each of the four girls -acerbic eldest daughter Hadley (Witt), wannabe ballerina Emily (Russell), thebold Andy (Christensen) who has ambitions to be a TV journalist and teenagerPopeye - react differently to their father's disappearance, all blaming theirmother to some degree and none liking her new hard-drinking, bitchy ways.

The film follows thecharacters for a few months, as Terry and Denny become lovers, Andy gets a jobat Denny's radio station and starts dating his dissolute producer Shep(Binder), Hadley graduates from college and announces that she is getting married,Emily battles her mother who disapproves of her obsession with dancing andPopeye struggles for identity and the fact that her boyfriend might be gay.

Of course all is not as itseems and their father, it emerges, never left them after all.

Much of the plot'simplausibility is forgivable because of the work Binder does with his cast.Joan Allen is fearsomely convincing, rarely likeable but eminently watchable,as she spits out barbs, curse-words and criticism as a shield for her distress.

Even better is Costner.Quite dumb, but likeable and self-aware, his character is the warmth thatspreads through the chilly Wolfmeyer household and the film.

Appropriately for a picturemixing so many storytelling approaches, The Upside of Anger was shot at EalingStudios and around London, effectively doubling for an affluent suburb in aneast coast US state.

Prod cos: Sunlight Pictures, co-produced with VIP Medienfonds2, VIP Medienfonds 3, MDP Filmproduktion
US dist:
New Line Cinema
Int'l sales:
Media 8 Entertainment
Exec prods:
Mark Damon, StewartHall, Andreas Grosch, Andreas Schmid
Alex Gartner, Jack Binder,Sammy Lee
Richard Greatrex
Prod des:
Chris Roope
Steve Edwards, Robin Sales
Alexandre Desplat
Main cast:
Joan Allen, KevinCostner, Erika Christensen, Evan Rachel Wood, Keri Russell, Alicia Witt, MikeBinder