Steven Soderbergh goes out with a twist.
DIRECTED BY STEVEN SODERBERGH
If Steven Soderbergh’s insistence that Side Effects will be his last theatrical release turns out to be true, he’ll have mustered an impressive filmography by the time he takes his early retirement. His movies make an oddly diverse group, from the heady science fiction of his Solaris remake to the micro-budgeted Bubble, through to his recent spate of experimental star vehicles (for MMA fighter Gina Carano in Haywire, and former adult film star Sasha Grey in The Girlfriend Experience, to name just two). As last films go, Side Effects is on the slight side, but it’s very much in keeping with the freewheeling spirit that’s defined Soderbergh’s work since he burst onto the world stage at Cannes in 1989.
The film starts as a melodrama about mental illness, then changes without warning into both a courtroom procedural and a trashy sex thriller in the vein of Fatal Attraction. The story, inasmuch as it can be described without spoilers, centres on Emily (Rooney Mara), a young woman with a mood disorder that is triggered for the first time in years when her financier husband (Channing Tatum) is released from prison after time spent there for insider trading. Her intense depression take her to a new psychiatrist, Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), who is all too happy to ply with her a profoundly mind-altering new drug pitched to him by a motley crew of pharmaceutical lobbyists that includes Emily’s former doctor (Catherine Zeta-Jones).
Zeta-Jones’ hammy demeanor in her early scenes tips us off to some of the more surprising tonal mutations Soderbergh has in store for us later on. Some of these are more fruitful than others. In particular, one late plot turn is simultaneously homophobic, misogynistic, and callous toward those suffering from mental health issues—an unholy trifecta. Still, one does not go to a thriller for moral instruction, and Side Effects works perfectly well as an efficient delivery system for Soderbergh’s career obsession with playing at the crossroads between different genres. He’s clearly having a good time on this victory lap, and his fun is contagious.