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The Viewing Room: 'Side Effects' gets really old really fast

Movie columnist Hannah Bedenkop on what’s hopefully not Soderbergh’s last film

Published Feb. 14, 2013

By all accounts, “Side Effects” should have been a home run for me. I enjoy psychological thrillers. I enjoy it when every plot point turns on its head. I enjoy Jude Law, as most people do. But almost everything about this movie just fell flat, and I found myself wishing it would hurry up and get to the big twist after only 30 minutes in the theater.

“Side Effects” follows protagonist Emily Taylor’s (Rooney Mara) pursuit of psychiatric help following the release of her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) from prison. Suffering from depression, Emily seeks help from Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), who prescribes a new medicine recommended by Emily’s previous psychiatrist (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Then everything goes to crap in the most confusing way possible.

I won’t deny that the movie is technically well made — it is a Steven Soderbergh production, after all. It’s staged and shot in a way that is wonderfully suspenseful, and the score adds to the tension nicely. Alfred Hitchcock would be impressed with the way “Side Effects” capitalized on unreliable narration and mind games to build up suspense.

But beyond that, I just lost all enthusiasm. My irrational fear of Rooney Mara aside, I found her performance to be stilted and overly dull. Plus her dye job was distractingly terrible. The rest of the cast didn’t do too much for me either. Jude Law was pretty solid, Catherine Zeta-Jones was a little wooden and Channing Tatum was … Channing Tatum. I have tried with all my might to understand your appeal, Channing Tatum, but I have failed miserably.

The pace of the film is absolutely glacial. I honestly walked out of the theater thinking I had wasted 2 1/2 hours of my life on the movie, but it had only been an hour and 45 minutes. It probably didn’t help that, upon reflection, I realized that I didn’t give the slightest crap about any of the characters. They were not likable or sympathetic in the least.

Quite frankly, “Side Effects” is kind of boring when it’s not busy trying to be the thorniest movie you’ve ever seen. There are long stretches where absolutely nothing interesting happens, and although the dialogue is smart, it just isn’t able to make up for the complete lack of action.

In the film’s third act, the pace finally starts to quicken, but it’s awfully unsatisfying. The plot twists and twists so many times it’ll make your head spin. Then you just spend the rest of the time with your eyes narrowed at the screen because no way in hell did you plan for all of that, Rooney Mara. I see right through you and your dreadful hair. There’s a fine line between an intricate plot and a ludicrous one, and “Side Effects” flirts with it mercilessly.

The final twist managed to be both completely ridiculous and completely predictable. There was no emotional payoff where there should have been emotional payoff, and there was no chemistry where there should have been chemistry. Also, three separate double-crosses occurred in the span of 15 minutes. I’m sorry, but that is just ridiculous.

The film also functions as a statement about the pharmaceutical drug market and how easy it is to abuse it. Although I can appreciate the gravity of the subject and the underlying warning about the exploitation of the field, the portrayal of psychiatrists and doctor-patient relationships is drastically inaccurate. It also only serves to further the stigma surrounding mental health care in the United States.

Simply put, “Side Effects” just didn’t do it for me. I couldn’t get invested in the story because it was too high on its own drama and over-the-top plot twists to put any real effort into developing the characters or their personalities. I’d give this movie two out of five prescription pill bottles — the aesthetics were pleasing, but the rest was disappointing.

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