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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Side Effects



In the last couple of years, a new winter doldrums that could be dubbed "Soderberghuary" has surfaced. This would be the stark depression that sets in after watching Steven Soderbergh films that are released in January. Last year was Haywire, this year it's Side Effects. Is there a drug for Soderberghuary? After seeing Side Effects, I wouldn't touch it even if there were. 

In Side Effects, Rooney Mara suffers from depression after four years of waiting for her husband Channing Tatum to be released from prison for insider trading. She tries to kill herself by ramming her car into a parking garage wall and falls under the care of psychiatrist Jude Law, who prescribes her a popular anti-depressant called Abixia. Already at her wits end, Mara's behavior grows even more erratic on Abrixia, where she almost throws herself in front of subway trains and starts sleepwalking and setting the dinner table for people who aren't coming. Then, while "asleep", she commits murder, murder most fowl. The movie asks, is someone on such a drug actually culpable for such a crime? Is the doctor prescribing the drugs responsible? And then the movie figuratively throws a vial full of pills in the audience's face, upends the table and storms off!

All of a sudden, Side Effects decides it isn't about any of those things and it never was, nor is it a serious movie tackling an intriguing real-life subject at all. No, it was all a ruse, see. Side Effects is really a ludicrous whodunit non-mystery involving insider trading of pharmaceutical stocks, lesbianism, and Law losing his practice in a desperate bid to prove that Mara was never crazy at all. Or was she? Yes. And no. And what? Law investigates Mara's past psychiatric history, involving her prior doctor Catherine Zeta-Jones, and the three play a confounding cat-and-mouse game over what Mara was making up (everything except the murder) and how long Mara can stay incarcerated in a mental ward.  Many of the supporting characters literally give up and gaze in bewilderment as the final events of the story unfold. Soderbergh compounds the confusion by tilting his camera and even mounting it upside down in some shots. Soderbergh may well have lost it himself. It's a concern, a real, definite concern.