Side Effects

Predatory lesbos--they're gonna getcha!
Steven Soderbergh
Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Channing Tatum
The Setup: 
Woman commits crime while on medication. But more sinister forces are at work...

This is said to be Steven Soderbergh's final film before retirement, to which I say: Bye! He has been so arrogant and superior in his interviews of late, while seemingly blind to the fact that his films simply aren't that good. This one, like all of them, is decent enough but ultimately unsatisfying, an effect largely owing to the story not turning out at all to be related to what this movie sells itself as. It has too many pretentious to being highbrow pulp to supply the fun of pulp. And it's also quite offensive to lesbians.

We open tracking around an elegant apartment with a trail of blood on the floor, then flash back, three months earlier. Rooney Mara as Emily is receiving her husband, Martin, played by Channing Tatum, as he is released from prison. She is clearly depressed, and has a history of depression, and one morning drives her car straight into a wall. She is hospitalized, where she meets Jude Law as psychiatrist Banks. He starts therapy with her, and puts her on an antidepressant. She's still depressed, and switches to a new antidepressant on the market, Ablixa. She is soon sleepwalking on the drug, setting a table for three in the middle of the night. By now you will notice a large amount of shots in which the majority of the frame is out of focus, and a great many shots of people walking into focus, meant to convey the dopey state of a person on these medications.

We see Banks enter an agreement in which he receives 50k for signing up patients for a trial of Ablixa. Next thing you know, Martin comes home to find Emily in a daze, sleepwalking. She stabs him repeatedly, shocker, and leaves him to die on the floor as she goes into the bedroom and gets into bed. Emily claims to have no knowledge of what she's done, and is soon having Martin's mother read a statement on TV about the dangers of these drugs and how people have to be warned. It becomes a media scandal, and Banks is held responsible. He loses his practice. He loses his patients. Eventually he loses his shrill harpy wife, who does not exactly stand by her man. Emily is thrown into a hospital under observation. Banks is starting to investigate, and to form conspiracy theories that no one else will entertain.

Also on hand this whole time has been Catherine Zeta-Jones as Victoria, who was seeing Emily in Connecticut prior to her ending up with Banks. She has written several papers in the past about Ablixa, including describing the sleepwalking effects, and believes that Banks was reckless in prescribing it to Emily. For a while the movie feints in the direction that some pharma companies are creating these scandals to boost the sales of other drugs, but that goes nowhere. Soon Victoria is sending incriminating photos to Bank's wife, resulting in her walking out with the kid. Banks is developing more theories, especially that Emily was never actually depressed, was faking taking her medication, and set up the whole suicide attempt as a sham.

Well, I hope you're ready for the shocking conclusion that will blow your mind and perhaps require you to take to your bed for the next several hours. Banks starts making out to Emily that he and Victoria are in collusion, and Emily is going to be left in the institution to rot. He gets Emily to make a deal with him to save herself. She shows up at Victoria's office and we soon learn--they were having an affair! It seems that this whole thing was orchestrated by Victoria to get Emily out of her marriage and also score some money, although... a simple divorce? That was out of the question? Seems awfully complicated. One might also be surprised to learn, as I was, that hot passionate lesbian lovers do not employ tongues when kissing, but exchange polite but breathless lip kisses. So anyway, none of this actually has anything to do with the pharma industry or medical side effects or America's addition to pharma solutions, so while we appreciate your careful attention to the whole first half, thanks so much, you won't be needing that. What's actually going on has absolutely nothing to do with the pharma industry at all.

So ultimately it all comes down to predatory lesbians. They're out there, just lurking and scheming and thinking up elaborate schemes to kill husbands and ruin the lives of innocent men. Beware the sapphic menace, my friends! I've been looking on gay blogs to see if there's discussion of how offensive this movie is to lesbians, and how unusual and unwelcome it is for a movie to hang its pathology squarely at the doorstep of lesbians--they're lesbo, right? So OF COURSE they're fucked-up, man-hating predators--and just let that be that. It's offensive, because it takes the worst cliches about lesbians and accepts them as simple truth, then hangs the entire plot of the movie around them.

There's also a bit of an issue with dishonest storytelling, especially ironic given Soderbergh's loud lamentations about having to tamp down his innate genius to shoehorn his explosive vision into the constrictions of accepted narrative. He is SO avant-garde, you simply must understand, that it truly causes him physical pain to have to tell a story in a straightforward way. But then it turns out that all of this technique about conveying his character's drugged state of mind by having the entire film be in extreme shallow focus is actually total bullshit, because in fact, by the end we realize that NO ONE in the film is fucked up on drugs! And drugs are not what the film is about at all. So all that thematic stuff actually has NOTHING to do with what's happening here and is in fact misleading the audience. There's also the issue of Emily continuing her sleepwalking charade after killing her husband. When we find out that she was acting the whole time, after her husband died, why does she need to continue to act? Well, because we haven't yet revealed to the audience that she's was never drugged, so we need to show consistent, if dishonest, information.

And all of this would be more acceptable if the whole thing was more fun, or any fun, but there's an apologetic tone to it that wants to float the story as pulpy trash without actually going for it. And it doesn't exactly engender fond feeling that the whole first two-thirds, and the whole reason you came to see this movie, actually has nothing whatsoever to do with what the movie is about. So you have a decent-enough movie that is kind of not so bad, and doesn't seem like a TOTAL waste of time, and kind of had, you know, SOME thought put into it.... and it seems that Soderbergh is only too delighted to let those kind of films be his legacy. Enjoy retirement, buddy, and please don't let the swinging door hit you in the ass.

Should you watch it: 

I wouldn't bother.