By Kleinz 57
Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) is having a tough time. Her husband (Channing Tatum) just got outta the clink for insider trading. He’s also out of a job, making her the lone breadwinner, and to top it off, she’s showing some adorable signs of severe depression. Following a sudden accident, Emily starts seeing Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) for therapy and a prescription or five. One of those blue and yellow purple pills is a new drug, Ablixa, which as the film’s title hints at, has a cute girl on its fake website. Suddenly, Emily can’t sleep and starts experiencing weird mood swings. Fearing she may dissolve into the horse-faced lunacy of Gary Busey, Dr. Banks consults Emily’s old therapist (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Nobody seems to have an answer, and the problems and pills keep piling on. It’s the American way, really.
A word to the wise: if you’re looking to actively ruin a pleasant evening, Side Effects is your ticket. It isn’t that it’s a poor film; just the opposite. Steven Soderbergh is on a Murder She Wrote level of crafting intrigue here, some of which is owed to leads Jude Law and Rooney Mara, the latter who channels this creepy zone of dead cow-eyed ambivalence. On more than one occasion, Mara has scenes that are wholly unsettling, oftentimes with nothing but her and that whacked-out face. Certainly Soderbergh himself has strong mastery of this fantastic cast, and that’s all the more upsetting since he’s apparently retiring after he finishes his Liberace TV movie, something television needs about as much as The Crossover with Michelle Beadle. Side Effects isn’t quite an indictment of the American pharmaceutical industry, but it is a glimpse into one possibility, just a really diabolical one.
And if I’m allowed a little self-fellating here, “diabolical” is an apt descriptor for the turns this takes. It’s also to blame for Side Effects’ few missteps. Catherine ZEETAH-Jones plays a particular moment much too “big,” and the manner in which Bourne scribe Scott Z. Burns resolves things feels a bit like gift-wrapping a severed horse head. But Soderbergh has constructed this at such an even-keeled pace that who really cares? Many a cinematic d-bag have already made some Hitchcock comparisons and, tempting penis puns aside, they’re not wrong. That cerebral tone especially rings true in a certain parking lot scene or during an… incident with a kitchen knife. The suspense gets some help from wunderkind Thomas Newman’s score and Soderbergh’s own luminescent photography that’s eerie instead of comforting (like what Wally Pfister did in scenes with Leo Di Caprio’s crazy Inception ghost wife).
I also can’t resist comparing a plot point to a certain scene in Wild Things involving, oh let’s say… Denise Richards’ boobs. I fear saying anything more would spoil a thrilling time at ye grande ole theatre, but considering some of the Mime readership’s interests (present company included), I may have already said too much.