What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Steven Soderbergh's Side Effects is a twisty thriller centered on psychiatry and antidepressants. There's murder (by stabbing) and blood, as well as some argumentative, aggressive scenes in hospitals. The main character appears topless and mostly naked and participates in more than one strongly suggestive sex scene with her husband; there are also sensual scenes between two female characters. Language is strong but not constant and includes a few uses of "f--k" and "s--t." Drugs are perhaps the movie's main issue, with the main characters taking many different types of prescriptions and reacting in various ways. The movie never really seems to endorse or condemn these drugs, leaving it up to the viewer to decide. Older teens may find the questions the movie raises interesting, and it may open up important discussions with their parents.
What's the story?
Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) is depressed. She knows she should be feeling better, since her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum), has been released from prison after serving a term for insider trading. But she just doesn't. After a suicide attempt, she meets psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), who decides to put Emily on antidepressants. Dr. Banks also meets with Emily's former doctor, Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), as well. Unfortunately, he switches Emily to a new drug called Ablixa, which causes her to sleepwalk -- and worse. When something terrible happens during one of Emily's episodes, it starts to look as if Dr. Banks is to blame. But has he been set up? And, if so, how can he fight back?
Is it any good?
There's enough good stuff here to give the movie a pass, though it could have been a great deal more. After a distinguished, prolific, and varied career, director Steven Soderbergh has announced that SIDE EFFECTS will be his last film. It's too bad, then, that although the movie has Soderbergh's unique textures and use of sound, as well as an unusually perceptive human touch, it's not one of his best. The first half -- based on characters and ideas -- is promising. Mara is touching as the wounded, achingly sad Emily, and the issue of whether and how to medicate her is expertly raised. (In an interesting antithesis scene, a Haitian boy who has seen a ghost is, due to his cultural beliefs, not considered sick.)
But Side Effects' second half turns entirely to a twisty, surprise-heavy plot that relies on quick shocks to prevent viewers from digging too deeply into its shaky logic. Without giving anything away, most of it is very far-fetched.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about how Side Effects depicts prescription drugs. Does it make antidepressants and other medications look appealing? Do the consequences seem realistic?
What is the movie saying about turning to medication as a solution for problems? How much work does the main character put into getting better, and how much of it is the responsibility of the pills?
Talk about the major violent scene. How necessary was it to the story? Does it add or take away from the movie's themes?
Which of these characters (if any) did you end up rooting for? Are any of them role models?