Side Effects

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Side Effects Movie Poster Image
Thriller's twisty plot overshadows thought-provoking themes.
  • R
  • 2013
  • 106 minutes

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 15+
Based on 4 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The movie raises thought-provoking questions about whether society is too quick to medicate our problems. It also raises questions about whether medication is necessary or effective.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Though one character starts out by genuinely trying to help another character in need, nothing is quite as it seems. The characters in this movie are mostly selfish, conniving, greedy, and even homicidal. They make poor choices and don't learn anything positive or grow in any positive way.


A bloody murder, via stabbing. It's foreshadowed in the opening minutes of the movie, with a trail of blood leading through a home. A character attempts suicide by crashing a car into a wall and puts herself in danger in another situation as well. Various scenes of arguing, screaming, and struggling.


The main character is shown topless and mostly naked. She has more than one sex scene with her husband, with sex noises and thrusting shown (male nudity isn't shown). A sensual kiss and sexual suggestion between a psychiatrist and her female patient.


Language isn't constant but includes a few uses of "f--k," "s--t," "bitch," "damn," "goddamn," and "oh my God."


Many actual antidepressants and other drugs are mentioned by name, and they're shown as consumer products that patients should desire. A fake drug, Ablixa -- complete with advertising (and a website) -- is part of the movie's plot. Red Bull, Yahoo!, Volkswagen, BMW, Rolling Rock beer, and Visine products/brand names are shown and/or mentioned.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Though the movie isn't about substance abuse, it's heavily about the use of antidepressants and other prescription medications. It's also about the side effects of these drugs. The main character is shown to be on several different kinds of drugs, behaving in different ways. Overall, though, the movie never truly endorses or condemns these drugs. Social drinking by adult characters.

What 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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byMai B August 1, 2018
Adult Written bychristian2011 September 3, 2013

An intense thrill ride throughout. Entertaining, shocking and compelling!

Side Effects is a dark, tense psychological crime thriller which is chalk full of major plot twists and some characters actions (that unveils halfway through th... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byone direction March 23, 2014

I liked this movie

I really liked Channing Tatum in this movie. I wouldn't recommend this movie for younger teens because for language, violence and sexual content.
Teen, 17 years old Written byBestPicture1996 December 29, 2013

The twist blew me away!

Rooney Mara's startling portrayal as Emily, the drug-addled maybe crazy lady who sparks a media frenzy after she does something horrible, and her psychiatr... Continue reading

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.

Talk to your kids 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?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love thrills

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