Review: Side Effects (Has a Split Personality)


Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects is a fairly savvy whodunit about a girl, her therapist and a series of jumbled motivations that ends—or rather begins—with murder.

The film’s trailer, like Soderbergh’s ongoing declarations of retirement, shouldn’t be taken at face value. Side Effects is really four different films whose premises can’t be shared without “spoiling.” (As was true for Brave and Cabin in the Woods, to share plot is to over-share.) So while the film begins as a psychodrama, genre requirements force it into other territories: courtroom drama, forensic thriller, romantic murder mystery. It’s as if, the prescription for genre side effects, is more genres.

Side Effects arrives in theaters a week after Warm Bodies. Last week’s comedy used zombies as a metaphor for modern disaffect, while in Side Effects, Rooney Mara gives us an unusually bright-eyed zombie whose tears even seem dead.

Almost everywhere in this New York (Mara’s work, her apartment, the courtroom, etc.) carries a quality of estrangement—dreamy and possibly subjective, it’s as we’re waiting to find out this story is a figment of Rooney Mara’s medicated imagination.

Soderberg’s interest in characters suffering through financial hardship (Magic Mike), or facing exploitation because of their “roles” in an economy (Girlfriend Experience), loom large here, while his hang-ups about “doing it for money” also make occasional appearances. Screenwriter Scott Z Burns plays out his interest in the Industrial Medical Complex (if with more disgust than was apparent in Contagion), and ultimately provides us one more story about people who represent pawns to an industry that buys and trades in life—in the most civilized way, of course.

Still, for all the genre schizophrenia, the film features a great deal of poetry; one supposes the moral might be that art endures, regardless of how close to death it dances.

Sara Vizcarrondo's Latest Blog Entries:

Don’t trust the title. Jim Jarmusch’s newest flight into the fantasies of a teen angst and anima follows the eternal love of Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (...
It wasn’t a joke when the press asked the San Francisco Film Society’s new Executive Director how long he plans to stay with us. Warmly, Noah Cowan, responded...
People will ask: “Where did Jonathan Glazer come from?” Not because he’s new, but because Under the Skin, his new sort-of sci-fi film starring Scarlett...
“Why did everybody who intended to leave society take typewriters?” Daniel Geller asks. He and Dayna Goldfine stumbled on this question while they were...
When Stellan Skarsgård finds Charlotte Gainsbourg unconscious in an alley, you believe he could carry the bleeding woman to authorities, take her in after she...

Side Effects Photo Gallery

More Side Effects News


About Sara Vizcarrondo

Sara Vizcarrondo's picture

Sara Vizcarrondo is a freelance film critic out of San Francisco. She runs Opening Movies at Rottentomatoes, teaches film/media studies at DeAnza college and writes on film for Popdose and The SF Bay Guardian.

RSS Feed   Subscribe to RSS Feed