The side effects of ‘Side Effects’ (2013) include a longing for what could have been, and nausea.

13 Mar

Side Effects posterAllegedly Steven Soderbergh’s directorial swansong, Side Effects is an immensely difficult film to review without spoiling the experience. Such a film demands attention however, not for it being deliciously complex, but for being a massive missed opportunity. Rooney Mara is married to Channing Tatum. She’s depressed, he is fresh out of jail. Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones and others are in it too… And I refuse to give up any more goods, for the less one knows going into the cinema, the better. Suffice to say, I had a fairly rotten time  from about a third of the way through on, for reasons explained below.

Side Effects is very good at making you think it’s a certain sort of movie, but then turns towards a very different direction; while strolling down path A, it immediately drops all its shopping and sprints down path E. This truly is a tale of two lopsided halves, and its main problem is that its second half is a bit of a shit heap. The first section is a daring and hard-hittingly honest depiction of depression, and how one struggles to cope with its related problems (most notably, suicide). This part is wonderful, and would make a devastatingly poignant vignette.

Unfortunately, Soderbergh feels the need to keep the train running, and upon leaving that particular station it derailed, crashed into an orphanage and murdered everyone on board. Path E is a dull, convoluted and quite moronic series of unbelievable twists and nonsensical revelations, which ultimately (as far as I can fathom) attempts to condemn pharmaceutical companies’ pandering to big business and the stock market. However, this critique fails to mask the overly knotty drama contained underneath. It simply throws more than one too many sucker punches, and as such suffers from the most negative unbelievability possible.

A second flaw with Side Effects, which seems to have escaped under many other critics’ radars, is that as a direct result of the various twists and turns the film takes we forgo any empathy we previously had for the assorted characters. Without giving anything away, our allegiances as viewers are swapped around like chess pieces on a board. While this would have been fine had Soderbergh not strayed from path A, by the final act many of the characters have been shown to be untrustworthy, unfaithful, surreptitiously scheming and, above all, immensely unlikeable. Sympathies erode as waves of deceit wash over us, much to the film’s detriment.

Mara is convincing as a damaged soul.

Mara is convincing as a damaged soul.

The camera has this infuriating habit of focusing intently on characters’ faces, while leaving the background unintelligibly blurry, and I can’t work out whether this is intentional cinematographic trickery endeavouring to mirror the psychological malady appearing on screen, or a rookie error on Soderbergh’s part. While the latter would seem unimaginable of the veteran director, if the former applies then it was a horrible move on his part, for the overall effect is a distinct muddiness. The unruly visuals combined with every other problem this movie has makes Side Effects a yawn-worthy exercise in watch-checking: I was bored out of my mind for much of it.

However, if one can overlook the incoherent plot, character design problems and the weird focus issues then one will find competent acting from all concerned. Of special note is Rooney Mara, who carries the first half hour flawlessly. Her character is dainty, fragile, a veritable house of cards; which the tornado of depression constantly threatens to destroy. Tatum is a vaguely mysterious convict with a shady background, while  Law is, as always, a pleasure. Zeta-Jones plays the least believable yet most interesting minor character, whose revelation may take home the prize for nuttiness, and borderline offensiveness too.

This film could have  been a wonderfully effective insight into the abyss of depression, and I emphasise the ‘could have been’. As it is, Side Effects is an inconsistent feature-length which should have quit about forty-five minutes in. I did not like this movie.

Simon says: side effects of this film include nausea, fatigue and a sense of time wastage.


One Response to “The side effects of ‘Side Effects’ (2013) include a longing for what could have been, and nausea.”


  1. Tina Fey + Steve Carell = hilarity; ‘Date Night’ (2010). | Simon Says - April 7, 2013

    […] the story itself is a different matter. It reminds me of the recent Side Effects in that this movie is great at making you think it’s going to be a certain kind of film, […]

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