Saturday, February 16, 2013

"Side Effects" Movie Review: There are Always Side Effects

Runtime: 106 minutes
Release Date: February 8, 2013
Rating: R
Director: Steven Soderbergh

When Dr. Jonathon Banks (Jude Law, "Contagion") warns his patient Emily (Rooney Mara, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo") that her new medication has side effects, she looks him in the eye before telling him that there are always side effects. While this might be a great opening to the film, the scene actually comes towards the middle.

"Side Effects" actually begins with Emily going through the motions of an ordinary day, though for her, it includes a trip to visit her husband (Channing Tatum) in prison. As the film progresses, we learn that the two once had the perfect marriage, complete with a fancy house and a brand new car for her. When he landed in prison for insider training, she was forced to start her life over again on her own.

Once Martin comes home, Emily begins suffering from extreme depression and anxiety. She goes through the motions of having sex with him without really feeling anything, and she has trouble at work. It all comes to a head when Emily drives her car directly into a brick wall. Dr. Banks treats her at the hospital, and he prescribes her medication while offering to treat her in his office.

Emily has trouble on one medication, getting violently sick at work. Banks prescribes different medications for her, but she suffers side effects every time. He finally contacts her former doctor, Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who recommends a new drug that she prescribed for similar patients. The drug changes Emily's life. She initiates sex, has a smile on her face, and generally seems happier. The only problem is that she suffers from sleepwalking, wandering through the apartment, cooking, and doing other things while asleep.

Martin suggests she try something new, but she decides to stick with the medication. She also becomes dependent upon Jonathon, much to the annoyance of his wife Deidre (Vinessa Shaw, "The Hills Have Eyes") who has problems of her own. This all leads up to a shocking event that Emily commits while sleepwalking, which test Jonathon and leave him hanging on by a string.

I wanted to see "Side Effects" from the first time that I saw a trailer, but I assumed that it was one of those films I would watch at the cheapo theater or catch on DVD. Cut to Valentine's Day. Since I picked the restaurant, the boyfriend got to pick the movie. I lobbied hard for "Mama," which really means that I kept pointing out that it started later, which would give us time to hit the concession stand. He instead picks this one, and we actually made it through the concession line in ten minutes.

That said, "Side Effects" is one of those films that's hard to describe. I don't want to ruin things by giving away the ending or even the big "shocking twist" in the middle, which makes it hard to even write a review. I will say that I liked it, but it definitely wasn't the movie that I expected. It starts off as a thriller, but then it becomes something of a crime drama, and honestly, it almost seemed like an extended episode of "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit" at times.

It doesn't help that Soderbergh wants to slam us over the head with his views on prescription medication. Yes, drugs are bad, and yes, many people are over medicated. Oh and yes, there are many side effects associated with those drugs, including sleepwalking. Unfortunately, there are also a large number of people who benefit from taking medication. Soderbergh almost seems to think that no one actually needs prescription medications, and that anyone who takes one will have problems.

In one scene, he shows a woman signing up for a test study. Though the doctor tries to talk to her about it, all she cares about is that she gets her medication for free. All right Soderbergh, we get it. Those little moments were sometimes distracting, and I actually found myself rolling my eyes multiple times. Had he just stuck to the thriller aspect, this could have been a much stronger movie.

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