Anger Management Movie Critique (From A Therapist’s Perspective)

The world of mental health has been a topic of Hollywood entertainment off and on for many years.

There have been numerous movies and stories that have combined different mental health diagnoses with drama, comedy, and/or action.  Some of the depictions of the mental health world are more accurate than others. In most movies there is some glimmer of truth and reality but it is often overshadowed with Hollywood’s entertainment aspect. The movie Anger Management starring Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson is no exception. While the movie is entertaining and surrounding a love story, there are some aspects of proper anger management techniques and practices that can be taken from the movie.



The are two main themes of the movie, and the one that seems to be the most accurate, is that anger can exist in everyone even if someone is calm and docile. Someone with anger management issues is not always easy to see. Some individuals who struggle the most are the passive aggressive individuals. Individuals who are more passive tend to keep anger bottled inside and never have a true healthy outlet. These individuals will allow others to manipulate and take advantage of them. This ability to bottle the anger up allows multiple situations to pile on top of one another until they reach a “breaking point”. The second point that the movie highlights is the difference between assertiveness and aggressiveness. Many individuals struggle with understanding the difference between the two terms. Assertiveness is persistence and drive to be focused on a goal. Aggressiveness is more about manipulating others for personal gain.

There are many parts of the movie that have effective anger management techniques that are subliminal within the comedy of the movie. Listed below is short list of real world practices that are properly displayed in this Hollywood adaptation:

True emotions below the anger.

  • One of the most important tools of managing anger is understanding the true emotion below the anger feeling. In the scene where the main character experiences ridicule at the beginning of the movie, he is overwhelmed with embarrassment and inadequacy. These are two significant emotions that are often the reason for anger.


  • This movie displays trigger and cues in a very effective way. In the scene when the main character is on the plane he is presented with numerous triggers, such as:
    • Someone sitting in his seat.
    • The distracting and loud individual that he shares an aisle.
    • The flight attendant that discounts and ignores him.
    • The air marshal that does not seem to take the moment to listen to or understand him.


  • When the main character enters his first anger management group there is an individual that is listening to a basketball game. During this scene his team loses the game and he starts to display the cues of anger:
    • Flushing, red face-physical cue.
    • Intense breathing, screaming and body agitation-behavioral cue.
    • Feelings of knowing better than the player, trouble understanding the significance of the game-emotional cue.
    • Verbally expressing how the situation should have gone-cognitive cue.

Anger cycle phases

  • While in the same scene it is demonstrated the anger cycle phases that include:
    • Escalation
    • Explosion
    • Post explosion
  • As the basketball game comes to an end, you see the character go from calm to gradually getting angry stating “the anger sharks are swimming in my head”, to the explosion phase where he is yelling, then the post explosion when he returns to a more relaxed state.

Deep breathing as a significant tool in anger management.

  • Anyone who has seen the Anger Management movie has heard the term “goosfraba”. In the movie it is used to calm the angry person. This is another subliminal way to demonstrate deep breathing. Taking long, controlled deep breaths can significantly reduce one’s stress level by circulating blood and oxygen throughout the body.

Real group work versus the movie.

  • As most know the movie was made for entertainment purposes, but still somewhat holds true to real anger management group work.
  • The scene where they are sitting in a circle, sharing their experiences, giving advice, and showing support are all important aspects of real group work. Although the scene is filled with comedy, the main aspect is still apparent.
  • The idea of an anger partner is mirroring the idea of having a support system. This is a person or persons that can be utilized in times of need and stress. This is demonstrated in the scene where the character “Chuck” reaches out to the main character after losing his job. He expresses having trouble managing thoughts and communicating that he is afraid he will do something he will regret. This as well is another important aspect in real world group work.

Explosive vs Implosive

  • The “therapist” of the movie is quoted in saying “There are two types of anger; explosive and implosive”. This is true. I teach in my anger management classes that there are two main types of anger expression. There are the explosive individuals that release anger quickly and intensely. Then there are more passive aggressive individuals that will allow their anger to grow within themselves. Both are not healthy ways of managing one’s anger.

“I feel pretty”

  • There is a humorous scene where the two main characters are in a car on a bridge. They come to a sudden stop after the therapist prompts the character in singing a song to help reduce the anger. Now, in the movie this is meant to be a humorous break in tension, but when looked at from a therapist standpoint it is an effective tool.
  • This song is meant as a distraction from the anger. This is a technique used and taught in anger management. The song distracts the character from the current stressors, controls his breathing, and slowly brings a more relaxed and positive look and body language.

Taking responsibility for actions.

  • One of my personal favorites of the movie is the constant message to take responsibility for one’s actions, don’t minimize feelings, and constant test and evaluation of the tests.
    • Through the movie the therapist is always prompting the character to express himself, become more assertive, and to take action for himself.
    • These are all valuable tools we teach in anger management.

To conclude, the movie is funny and meant to be entertaining. Although if one were to read between the lines it is clear that the movie also presents a few significant and valuable lessons in anger management. This is not to say that the movie could serve as a replacement for professional anger management assistance. I leave you with my favorite quote from the movie, “Let them be, set your anger free”.

About the Author

Wade Stark, LPC

Wade is one of our therapists here at Elliott Counseling Group and specializes in anger management as well as teenage adjustments and executive fuctioning issues. 

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