Published Feb 07, 2013Marking the third collaboration between director Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns (Contagion and The Informant being the others), Side Effects comes with the weight of expected subversion. Their films tend to manipulate a superficial narrative to mirror and explore a current social plight or play with audience expectations and comfort, turning assumptions and projected reality on their heads.
This is why the seemingly simple story of Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara), a woman suffering from depression after her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum), is released from prison for insider trading, is a bit of a puzzle.
Initially, Emily's illness manifests itself in a parking garage suicide attempt, which leads her to the overworked and overly understanding Dr. Banks (Jude Law) and a fancy new Zoloft subscription. When the drugs don't work, leaving Emily sobbing in workplace washrooms and at social events, Dr. Banks consults her previous physician, Dr. Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), to get some backstory and context, which leads to the prescription of a fancy new anti-depressant all the pharmaceutical reps are hyping.
Because of the constant mentions of drugs as a quick fix cure for hopelessness, earlier mentions of insider trading suggest that the moneymaking industry of pharmaceuticals is being paralleled with the economic collapse. Instant gratification and a Band-Aid fix are a temporary cure for Emily, who, much like the economy, will inevitably implode.
What isn't clear, until everything unfolds, is whether Soderbergh and Burns are merely attempting to draw this comparison and let it play out as an admonitory or if there's more going on than rehashing the same economic political posturing as a dozen other movies released throughout 2012.
Once this highly stylized and colour-tinted (the entire movie is green) story takes its eventual Wild Things turn, referential cinematic genre nods and knowing MacGuffin winks arise, making entertaining what initially appeared didactic. It's still a cinematically literate text, exploiting the genre tropes of the era that ignited the economic collapse in the first place, but it's far more playful than anything Soderbergh has put out in quite some time.
While it'll surely be divisive, there's something fun about the simultaneously predictable and unexpected manner in which Side Effects unfolds that should work quite well for a very specific audience that enjoys reading a film on multiple levels. (eOne)