Steven Soderbergh is a hit-or-miss filmmaker, although recently it’s been more misses than hits. You had the light in substance “Magic Mike”, the action/thriller without any real punch “Haywire” and one of the most boring world-wide virus flicks in “Contagion.”
His latest cinematic endeavor “Side Effects” is another miss sadly. “Side Effects” focuses on the depressed Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) and her battles with depression and the meds she’s given to fight it. Emily has a husband (Channing Tatum) that just got released from prison, but once he comes back into her life, she kills him. Is it from a side effect of the antidepressants she’s on, or did she do it willingly?
This is the conflict of “Side Effects,” and it’s utterly laughable. The film gains little traction when her current doctor (Jude Law) begins to look into her case and thinks that she’s faking the whole thing, but once Emily’s former doc (Catherine Zeta-Jones) emerges “Side Effects” becomes so convoluted that it’s hard to even care what happens, let alone follow it.
Writer Scott Z. Burns (“Contagion”) seems to be aiming at making this a mystery or a character study or a commentary on American culture, yet none of these notions fully manifest themselves onscreen. Mara sleepwalks through her performance, and the parts in which she’s supposed to act depressed are hardly believable due to her pathetic portrayal and the poorly written part.
Soderbergh serves as editor and cinematographer (both under known aliases), so the movie, like all of his films, looks stunning and flows at an intense clip; there’s little, however, within the frame that unfolds so crystal clear.
Another positive is the score by Thomas Newman, for during a film that lacks emotional heft, the music sprinkled in makes us feel the scenes at some minimally visceral level at the very least.
“Side Effects” doesn’t even appear to come from the same filmmaker that granted us modern classics like “Traffic” and “Che”, or the hidden gems of “The Good German” and “The Girlfriend Experience.”
This film puts his lackluster run of features in perspective, however, because, we see the mistakes he’s been making all over again: Bad scripts make bad movies. It doesn’t get any simpler than that.