Bosco’s Word: Side Effects
I’ll believe that Steven Soderbergh has quit directing when he’s dead. As one of the most prolific filmmakers to ever live, people like Soderbergh just don’t quit. You don’t go from releasing two or three films a year to none at all. Also, it’d be especially disappointing if Soderbergh went out with Side Effects. I’d feel a little robbed if Soderbergh left the world of film with a taste that goes beyond the limitations of bitter.
Fighting a depression that has recently crept up after a battle with mental illness that goes back to her childhood, Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) has decided to enlist the help of Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) after a half-hearted suicide attempt left her hospitalized. Her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) has just returned home from a three year prison sentence and Emily would like to get her life back in order. She goes to therapy regularly with Dr. Banks and is prescribed a number of drugs until the correct combination of pills is found.
With nowhere else to turn, Emily is put on the drug Ablixa, a new anti-depressant that has just hit the market. The results are almost instantaneous. Her mood swings have been curbed, her sex drive has returned, and things seem to be going back to normal. Unfortunately, Emily now experiences occasional episodes of sleepwalking. In them she is often found preparing some kind of meal. Dr. Banks attempts to decipher Emily’s episodes but by the time he has an idea of what’s going on it’s too late.
It’s really hard to talk about a movie like Side Effects without spoiling everything, so the best advice I could give you is to stop reading this review, watch the movie, then come back and read the rest. I’m not going to spoil anything outright but I will allude to other films and stories that will allow any intelligent moviegoer to put the pieces together rather quickly. One thing I can say about this movie without spoiling it: if you consider yourself to be a fan of Hitchcockian mysteries, nothing about Side Effects will surprise you. In fact it may even insult you with how simple it really is.
This film promised to be an unpredictable thrill ride with twists and turns at every corner. Knowing this, I went in Side Effects expecting the unexpected. To my surprise, I was able to figure out the twist about thirty minutes into the film, rendering the rest of it utterly dull and lifeless. Steven Soderbergh’s “last” film may possibly be his worst. The performances are nothing to rave about, the directing is pretty standard Soderbergh, and the screenplay, written by Contagion scribe Scott Z. Burns, takes viewers through the plots of three unconvincing and unexciting films all for the price of one.
In the beginning, Side Effects is a slow-moving but interesting film about the danger of prescribed medicines. The film tries to point out on numerous occasions that many psychiatrists are becoming no better than the drug reps that go from office to office and barge into the nurses’ station with a “magic pill” that will solve everything. By the end of the first act, the film has become a mystery. Hints are dropped here and there but there’s never really a concrete discovery that leads the story in one direction or another.
It was around this point of the film that I got an idea what was going on. As the film progressed, it just continued to prove me right. By the time Side Effects hits its third act, it’s successfully become Ti West’s Second Honeymoon co-starring Jude Law. I don’t think the film is implausible or anything like that, I just think it’s plain dumb. Soderbergh isn’t a dumb filmmaker, though, and that’s really the only twist in Side Effects for me.
I haven’t done that much research about the process of making Side Effects but I remember reading somewhere that Soderbergh said he used his last good idea in this film. Now, I can only think of one turning point in the film where that could be applied, and my only response is, ‘Really?’ Lesbians is your last good idea? Lesbians? I mean, I’m no expert on the matter of lesbian relations or pharmaceutical controversies, but is this really the only direction this film could have taken? After such a promising and disturbing first act, the film backtracks and almost opposes the stance it took in its opening scenes regarding the power that psychologists have on their patients.
For his sake, I hope this isn’t Soderbergh’s final film. He’s such a fantastic filmmaker with a career that spans decades and genres alike. For him to go out on this film would be an insult to his previous work. There’s a better film in there somewhere and for him to say he used his last good idea for Side Effects completely contradicts something he said in his interview for Side by Side which was, “I would never want to be perceived that way…as someone who’s static.”