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Side Effects (2013)

February 19, 2013

8/10 Shrink Traps

Man, am I gonna miss Steven Soderbergh.

Side Effects is about a young woman who’s living the good life until the day her husband goes to jail for insider trading. Five years later, her husband gets out, and as they try to pick up the pieces, she slowly starts losing her grip. Next thing you know, she’s driving her car into a wall, and when she wakes up in a hospital, she’s introduced to a psychiatrist. Rather than commit her, the psychiatrist tries to help this poor girl by writing her prescriptions in the hope of finding the right fit. So after several failed attempts, a miracle drug is found, and with the occasional sleepwalk being the only real drawback, life starts returning to normal. Her marriage gets better, the psychiatrist gets more work, and everything is just grand until tragedy suddenly strikes.

If it weren’t for Steven Soderbergh, this here would have been completely off my radar. Not only was I jaded by its unfortunate February release date – one of the worst moviegoing months there is – but I can’t be the only one who could barely even tell what this movie was about from the trailer. It just looked like the kind of movie that would come out in February, and that, dear readers, is just no bueno. But even if it had come out ten months from now, I wasn’t exactly a Jude Law fan to begin with, and I was still pretty skeptical that Channing Tatum could maintain this miraculous reinvention of his from last year into this one. And how about that boring-ass title and glaring contest of a poster? Certainly not helping matters any.

What can I say, movies where pharmaceutical companies are the “bad guy” have never really done it for me. But like I said, Steven Soderbergh was directing it, and at the end of the day, that was all the convincing I needed.

I don’t care if it’s porn stars playing call girls or male strippers on parade, Steven Soderbergh will make it work; and if there was anyone who could assure me that this snafu of a marketing campaign was not to be trusted, it was him. The good news is that Soderbergh doesn’t disappoint, so much so that I’m really struggling over whether I should just get it over with and bump that Verdict up to a 9. Not to mention that the said shitty marketing job actually wound up working in this movie’s favor. The excruciatingly bad news, on the other hand, is that this is apparently Steven Soderbegh’s last movie.

Really hope I’m not bursting anyone’s bubble with that last sentence, but alas, that is the word on the street. I’m praying to all that’s good and just in this world that I’m dead wrong about it, because if this is the kind of quality we’re going to be deprived of, it’s enough to make a movie nerd weep. Just think of what you’re doing to poor Channing, Steve! Pray for Channing, people.

So with that being said, what is it about the way Soderbergh handles this that has me so goddamn uppity about the guy? Well as much as I’m making it sound like he deserves all the freaking credit, the success of Side Effects is the result of a team effort.

As for the first Act, it’s interesting enough. It sets the stage, it’s occasionally surprising, and it’s hard to tell what direction we’re being taken in as the plot just initially revolves around Mara Rooney reacting to prescriptions. The first Act isn’t the best Act, but it does give Mara Rooney a whole lot of leeway to do her thing. Like most folks, I only really know her from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and while her character’s demeanor here wasn’t much of a stretch in comparison, damn, if she doesn’t know how to pull it off. As a girl who’s being hopped up on one experimental drug after another, Rooney knows how to sell it. She really seems straight-up medicated, like she really is wandering around in this “poisonous fog bank” she keeps talking about, and it’s certainly something to watch.

But as good as Rooney is, it’s not until the second Act that her already-convincing performance starts operating on a new level and things in general get really, really interesting. But unfortunately, these said developments are so damn interesting that to discuss them in detail would be spoiling all the fun. As a result, this is the part of the review where, for reasons you can thank me for later, things are gonna get vague. Bear with me though.

Once the second Act kicks off with a proper kick to the brain, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that most people watching will start raising logical suspicions. They immediately came to mind for yours truly, and I couldn’t help but worry that I had the rest of the plot pegged. The funny thing is that, in a sense, my concerns weren’t contradicted, but the way it all plays out from that point forward is just so unusually smart and compelling that I shortly forgot whatever it was I had been worrying about. And this is where the script by Scott Z. Burns comes into play.

Now, this is the third movie that Burns and Soderbergh have joined forces on, and you can chalk that up as casualty No. 2 as a result of Soderbergh’s early retirement. If Contagion alone was any indicator, Burns knows the drill when it comes to moving a story along and intelligently steering a plot. He’s good when it comes to dialogue, he’s good when it comes to coming up with premises that sound like they’re ripped right out of the hot sheets, but character development, now that’s his bread and butter.

The more we get to know these characters and the more we’re preparing ourselves for their next move, Burns keeps throwing unforeseen wrenches in the works, time and again concealing their true colors with each inspired encounter. Folks, this here is a cinematic game of chess, the kind of which would make Deep Blue nod its processor in surprised approval. And while it never hurts when such a well-written and well-plotted script is completely unexpected to begin with, exceeding expectations is just a bonus in this case. And while there is a bit at the end that felt a tad redundant when it comes to putting all the cards on the table, it’s a minor complaint that redeems itself rather quickly.

And did I mention that this now marks the second time I’ve really liked Jude Law in a movie (the first being Contagion)? For god’s sake, Steven, think of the repercussions!

Anyhow, I’d really be interested to hear what someone in the medical/pharmaceutical field thought about this movie, because my expertise on this stuff is laughable at best. But by the same token, I’d be somewhat puzzled if someone wrote this movie off for its portrayal of medicine, treatment, or even mental illness. Ultimately, the meds and their prescribers come secondary to the characters and their motivations, and it’s hard to imagine someone viewing this as an attack of sorts on the medical field in turn. So in case you were wondering, there you go.

Well, boys and girls, if this is in fact Steven Soderbergh’s swan song, then this review is as bittersweet as they come. By no means is Side Effects a career-defining opus, and to be honest, it is a bit strange that he decided to go out on this of all notes. But then again, it’s a damn good movie, a movie that many a film maker would be proud to have on their resume, and there’s a lot about it that’s unmistakably Soderbergh at that. It wasn’t the movie I was expecting, and it wasn’t the swan song I was expecting either, but hey, if he was gonna go out on any kind of note, at least he went and made it a high one.

Never forget, kids. Never forget.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. February 19, 2013 3:40 am

    I wasn’t going to see this. It looked lame and ridiculous like most February released movies. You have made me reconsider my position. I want to see it now.

    • February 19, 2013 8:24 am

      Hahaha. So very glad to hear that. Hope it doesn’t disappoint and would love to hear your thoughts!

  2. February 19, 2013 10:48 am

    Solid stuff bro-man! This movie kicked me sideways and kept me going until the final-shot. I did feel like there were too many twists to deal with in this flick, but they all kept the story moving and constantly interesting. As for Soderbergh’s retirement, I’ll believe it when I see it. Honestly, something tells me we haven’t seen the last of Stevie. Something just tells me, deep down inside. Maybe it’s wishful thinking.

    • February 19, 2013 10:59 am

      I’m with on you Soderbergh’s retirement. Seems awfully sudden, especially for a guy who’s been putting out one to two movies a year for a while now, but I’m just hoping he comes back. Keep the faith, homey.

  3. Moose permalink
    February 19, 2013 10:51 am

    I was just talking with someone about this movie this weekend. She said pretty much the same thing, and I was planning on checking it out. Now I know that I should.

    • February 19, 2013 10:58 am

      Hell to the yeah, buddy. Surprisingly good stuff, let me know what you think when you check it out.

  4. March 6, 2013 5:56 pm

    This is already down to three screenings a day at the local mall so I’d better catch it soon before it’s gone.
    I don’t think this is SS’s last movie for ever and ever amen. He’s only taking a break from movies, according to the reports I found online.
    In the meantime, I heartily recommend you catch up with one of his very early movies, Schizopolis. It takes a few viewings to get a full understanding but that’s partly because there are some random moments that are just insanely funny.

    • March 11, 2013 3:42 pm

      Oh, man. Catch that ish, stat!

      And I’m really hoping it’s not. As good as it is, this is no magnum opus for such a fine director as SS.

      Always wanted to check out Schizopolis, might just be high time that I did. Thanks for the encouragement!

      • March 11, 2013 5:07 pm

        I caught it last Thursday. The best work I’ve seen by Jude Law in years. Thanks to you for the advice.
        I’ve posted a couple of clips from Schizopolis on my blog. Try before you buy, so to speak.

      • March 13, 2013 10:24 am

        Tell me about it, man. Always considered Jude Law one of the most overrated actors out there and never did anything for me except have a badass name. But now with this and Contagion under his belt, I’m finally starting to come around. And will check out those clips, getting me all excited over here!

  5. July 15, 2013 11:16 am

    Being such a Soderberg fan, I’d love to know what you thought of “Behind the Candelabra.”

    • July 15, 2013 11:22 am

      I didn’t see it! I feel shame! Didn’t really make much of an effort and didn’t hear much in the way of reviews, but I can’t help but feel like I’m missing out right now. Should I get on it?

      • July 15, 2013 11:28 am

        It was very well-reviewed. I loved it. It was a restrained performance from Douglas–considering that he played Liberace!
        So odd that it was forced to television in the US but received wide theatrical release in Europe.
        I expect some nominations come Emmy time.

      • July 15, 2013 11:36 am

        That’s very weird about it being release theatrically across the pond, had no idea and never heard of that ever being done before. Still, you’ve convinced me. Really don’t know much about Liberace, but hey, it always pays to trust in Soderbergh. Will give it a go and get back to you. Thanks for the heads up and keep on cookin’!

  6. Terry M. permalink
    February 1, 2014 3:41 pm

    I love surprises! And this was a complete surprise! Seeing Channing with such a limited role (hint hint- not trying to be a spoiler) gave me some increased respect that he will do movies that aren’t just about him…lol nice review- nice it made your list!


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