Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

{Side Effects opens in Seattle Friday, 2/8, and is screening at Sundance Cinemas, Oak Tree, AMC Pacific Place, and SIFF Cinema Uptown} 

Well, Soderbergh finally made a movie with Channing Tatum that I wanted to see—if only to watch Rooney Mara work her magic.  

Side Effects is one of those movie that I think could have been brilliant, if it focused more deeply on the issue of pharmacology and the responsibility of psychiatrists and drug companies. Instead, it uses those things only to provide a frame around a cheap thriller.  

Mara plays Emily, a depressed young woman whose husband Martin (Tatum) has been in prison for 2 years for insider trading. Emily and Martin were living the high life when he was arrested with mansions and fancy cars and designer clothes, and now the poor girl actually has to work a 40-hour a week job! And she can’t even afford a decent psychiatrist. 

After Martin is released, Emily slips further and further into her depression, ghosting through her days, and eventually slams her car into a concrete wall, which lands her in the hospital and in front of Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law). The concerned doctor strongly suggests that she either be committed or get on antidepressants. 

Having been down this road before, Emily agrees she needs meds, and begs him to accept her as a patient, promising to see him as many times a week as needed—as long as he doesn’t force her to stay in the hospital. She refers him to Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a specialist she was seeing before Martin’s money was seized and she couldn’t afford to be in treatment anymore.  

Siebert and Banks discuss Emily’s condition and the different medications that might work to help her get better. Victoria mentions a brand new antidepressant called Ablixa, and when the rest of the drugs available hit her with various undesirable side effects, Emily mentions it to, so Banks decides to prescribe it. 

Unfortunately, Ablixa has its own mind-boggling side effect: putting Emily into a sleep-walking trance where she does things like cook dinner and set the table for three people … and when she wakes up, she doesn’t remember anything about what did while in that state.   

So, when Emily does something REALLY TERRIBLE she doesn’t remember, during the resulting trial, Dr. Banks’ expertise is called into question, as is the question of responsibility –is it Emily’s fault? Or her doctor’s? Or the drug company that created Ablixa and knew about this possibly dangerous side effect? 

Unfortunately, that exploration ends rather quickly, and the film descends into a “there’s more to THIS story” thriller that’s just too damn easy to figure out. Zeta-Jones frankly looks like she’d rather be at home than in a film (trying to act), and while Law does a decent job, his character arc starts out interesting but reaches a resolution way too easily. The one bright star in this whole mess is Mara, who really has the skills to pull of Emily’s layers and make us believe we’re in the middle of it with her. 

At best, this is an entertaining way to spend an evening, as long as you don't *think* about it too much. There were some good reveals towards the last third, but I prefer a little more thriller in my thrillers, so for me, it didn’t live up to the great piece of filmmaking it should have been. 

Word is that this is Soderbergh’s last film ever—and I think Side Effects proves it’s a good time for him to quit.