"I can get us back to where we were, I promise. I can make that happen."
Emily Taylor is a damaged individual. Once living a life of relative obscurity, she is plucked from behind a bar counter, swept off of her feet by the affable Martin, instantly introducing her to one of opulence and frivolous purchases. All of that dissipates when Martin is sent to prison for four-years for insider trading. Gone is the Greenwich, Connecticut house, the designer outfits, the yacht--all replaced by a rude awakening and a debilitating depression.
Director Steven Soderbergh is an interesting guy. He continues to reinvent himself with every one of his features, never allowing himself to rest on his laurels. He burst onto the scene with 1989's SEX, LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE, earning the Palme D'Or at that year's Cannes Film Festival, and dramatically altering the landscape of independent film that still reverberates today. He has dipped into action (HAYWIRE), political (ERIN BROCKOVICH, TRAFFIC), comedy (SCHIZOPOLIS, THE INFORMANT!), experimental (FULL FRONTAL, BUBBLE, THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE), caper (OUT OF SIGHT, THE OCEAN'S TRILOGY), sci-fi (SOLARIS) biographical (CHE), and everything in between. His latest, SIDE EFFECTS, begins as a clinic on drug awareness, before morphing into a procedural who(what)dunit after a murder takes place.
Over the first 30-minutes we're fed a litany of complex labels. Some real: Effexor*, Prozac, Zoloft, and some fake: Delatrix, Ablixa. SIDE EFFECTS illustrates just how far we've come societally in regards to prescription. When once the subject of self-medicating was taboo, now it's almost celebrated. "What pill are you popping?" is the new "what are you wearing?" Pill chic, as it were. If you're not ingesting something, you're falling behind the times.
*If you've ever wondered why so many medications have odd names, the answer lies in a familiar tile game. According to Rob Stepney, writing in the British Medical Journal, "Reflecting their infrequent occurrence in English words, x and z count for 8 and 10 points in Scrabble, the highest values (along with j and q) in the game. So names that contain them are likely to seem special and be memorable." So, there you go. Next time you're absorbing the newest drug du jour, you can thank words like photooxidizing (37 points) and isocarboxazids (35 points) for inspiration.
After Martin is released, Emily's happiness returns, but it is fleeting. He has grand plans to return them to their more prominent days, building relationships with potential partners he met behind bars; even accepting dinner invitations from former colleagues who may have been behind his incarceration. This all proves too much for her. She breaks down while on an occupational meet-and-greet, later slamming her car into the wall of her underground garage. This culmination prompts a meeting between Emily and Dr. Jonathan Banks, a clinical psychiatrist who eventually prescribes a radical new answer to the misery she's experiencing.
Rooney Mara and Jude Law play Emily and Dr. Banks, respectively. Mara is hauntingly effective. If there were any doubt about her breakthrough role in David Fincher's THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO being a fluke, this should put it to rest. As evidenced by her most famous character to date, she can do vulnerable extremely well. Here, she does it without the benefit of body art and piercings, which makes it all the more impressive. Law always seems to carry a seedy undertone within his parts. There are allegations of an illicit relationship between Dr. Banks and a past patient. Emily's newfound fixation with him adds a new wrinkle to the already serpentine plot.
What Soderbergh possesses is the ability to elucidate characters without having to say or show much at all. Channing Tatum (Martin Taylor), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Dr. Victoria Siebert, another psychiatrist), and Vinessa Shaw (Dr. Banks's wife)--all hugely imperative to the narrative--steer clear of much of the spotlight, but their backstory is expressed, be it in a few short lines or limited scenes. Their truncated screentime could have been treacherous, but instead, only serves to highlight Soderbergh's profiency.
Near the end, SIDE EFFECTS' moral dilemmas are largely abandoned, relying more on an entertainment factor. I prefer its earlier connotations, but that's not to take anything from the overall experience. Soderbergh himself has said that this will be his last commerical release, stating an interest to pursue endeavors in television and on stage. This is pretty hard to believe. At a young age, Soderbergh has reached the rare platform where he's able to handpick every project he takes on, be it blockbuster or indie. If his intentions are indeed true, Soderbergh will leave a considerable gap in the market. I have a feeling, however, that we haven't seen the last of him, nor his ability to transfix us. Not a bad symptom to have induced.