Written by Scott Z. Burns
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Starring Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherince Zeta-Jones and Channing Tatum
Emily Taylor: I don’t think you should be my doctor anymore.
Steven Soderbergh has never been very happy with the Hollywood filmmaking system and has been threatening his retirement from the medium for what seems like years now. Each theatrical release was supposed to be his last but then another project would pop up before too long and it seemed as though the cycle might never be broken. Well, the moment has supposedly finally arrived, after directing more than 20 movies, with the arrival of his latest, SIDE EFFECTS. Soderbergh may misfire from time to time but when he gets it right, he creates some of the most innovative and insightful films to come out of Hollywood. I am a fan and it saddens me to say that his last theatrical effort isn’t that great. It saddens me even more to say that it isn’t even that good really.
So apparently, drugs are bad. This is the revelation that SIDE EFFECTS opens with. After her perfect husband (Channing Tatum) proved himself to be very much less than perfect by getting himself arrested and sent to jail for insider trading, Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) fell into a bit of a depression, understandably. When her husband is released four years later, her mood sinks again, somewhat less understandably. She starts to see a therapist (Jude Law) and gets bounced around from drug to drug until she finds the perfect fit. And so we go on for a while thinking this is the premise. Why is this girl on the verge of having her life back so miserable? (And trust me, Mara knows how to be painfully miserable.) Then Soderbergh shocks the audience and switches gears half way through. Suddenly, SIDE EFFECTS is an intense thriller, or at least it tries very hard to be. I’m all for zigging when the audience expects you to zag (PSYCHO, anyone?), but the destination needs to be worth the detour.
Screenwriter, Scott Z. Burns, a frequent Soderbergh collaborator, completely misses the mark with SIDE EFFECTS. Firstly, the whole prescription drug angle is a tired hook. Obviously, tales of depression and woe continue to this day, but focusing on the potentially tragic consequences that come with taking them, and subsequently debating the legal ramifications of these consequences, is not thrilling in the least. And both Burns and Soderbergh know it too. As the plot plodders on, they thicken it thinking the effect will be bewilderment and fascination, but all it really does is expose how thin the whole thing was to begin with. If there was a little pill to make me forget watching SIDE EFFECTS, I would take it without hesitation, regardless of any side effects it might have on me. At least this way, in my mind, MAGIC MIKE would still be Soderbergh’s last picture.