Here’s how the studio pitches it: “SIDE EFFECTS is a provocative thriller about Emily and Martin (Rooney Mara and Channing Tatum), a successful New York couple whose world unravels when a new drug prescribed by Emily’s psychiatrist (Jude Law) – intended to treat anxiety – has unexpected side effects.” On the surface, that description seemed like a prescription for box office boredom (to me). But now, having seen the movie, I understand the struggle to come up with a better way to spin this movie without giving too much away. The less you know, the better. But know this: Side Effects is an absorbing, thought-provoking, and unpredictable drama. In other words, it’s quite good.
The movie, directed by Steven Soderbergh (Oceans Eleven, Traffic), starts off a bit slow and non-linear in structure, but it gradually draws you in with one interesting twist after another. You can’t arrive late to the theater for this one or take a potty break (the movie is under two hours, so suck it up). The performances are generally quiet, subdued and introspective. For the record, Channing Tatum (Magic Mike) does take off his shirt. But this movie really belongs to Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) as a depressed patient and Law (Anna Karenina, Sherlock Holmes) as her psychiatrist. Catherine Zeta-Jones provides a credible assist as the woman’s former doctor.
Side Effects is part crime drama, part psychological thriller. And part cautionary tale. It deftly explores some complicated ethical issues relating to personal and professional responsibility – as Pharmco reps cozy up to doctors to test their latest products and boost prescriptions, and as more and more patients fall prey to the promises of direct-to-consumer advertising of various prescription meds. (Yeah, I’m talkin’ to you Ambien, Cialis, Abilify, etc.).
Bottom line: Side Effects is a solid adult drama. Take two hours (to see it) and call me in the morning.