The trick, or treat, that is ‘Side Effects’

MANILA, Philippines - The interesting “Side Effects” comes to theaters with some interesting, real-life trivia. 

For one thing, this will be the last big-screen movie from American director Steven Soderbergh in a long while, if not for good. This is due in part to his difficult experience in getting financing for his newer, biographical Liberace film “Behind the Candelabra” (which wound up being financed by HBO and is thus a cable TV release).

“Side Effects” also features a fictitious drug for manic depressives or those with bipolar disorder — the latter a condition that does afflict one of the film’s cast members, Catherine Zeta-Jones. And one of the movie’s lead characters gets mired in a sensational, paparazzi-luring controversy — and the character is portrayed by sometime tabloid pet, Jude Law.

Yet Soderbergh, who had helmed hits such as his “Ocean’s” trilogy, “Out of Sight,” “Erin Brokovich” and “Magic Mike” as well the lesser-known likes of “The Limey,” “Solaris” and “The Girlfriend Experience,” is not one to wing it and simply play up a given project’s broad appeal.

“Side Effects” itself, as scripted by Soderbergh’s “Contagion” writer-collaborator Scott Z. Burns, is a brooding, subtle effort, one whose baser impulses are kept from verging into bombast. It has not even hyped the fake drug that is central to its story, though Soderbergh et al. did bother to make a promotional fake video about it.

WHATu2019S UP, DOC? Jude Law plays a physician who gets a dose of his own bad medicine

In other words, as with pretty much everything the 50-year-old Soderbergh has made, this silver-screen swan song of his is less the output of a shock-and-awe hack and more the opus of a surprise-and-wow craftsman.

Rooney Mara, her brief, meek turn in “The Social Network” and lengthier, ballsy gig as “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” still fresh in many minds, is “Side Effects’” lead star — until the narrative unravels and the spotlight gets trained on Law. The film constantly finds its pulse in their dynamic as, respectively, a depressed gal and her concerned doctor. (Law, with his receding hairline and small, oval face, is strongly reminiscent of Terence Stamp as Hollywood’s earlier General Zod.) 

Just as an effective drug tends to have adverse effects, “Side Effects” plays on devious duality — its characters or events defying first impressions, and the movie itself morphing from a seemingly conventional drama into a confounding thriller.

There are even at least a couple of separate, genuine surprises involving co-stars Zeta-Jones and Channing Tatum, both underscoring “Side Effects’” provocative, adults-only appeal. Yet it is Mara who is the film’s big revelation, her chameleonic capacity showcased nicely in this single flick.

THE LADY RAVISHES. Rooney Mara is far from a downer in u2018Side Effectsu2019


Rooney Mara is far from a downer in u2018Side Effectsu2019

The movie has been deemed a homage to — the cynical would say, rip-off of — Alfred Hitchcock, particularly of “Psycho.” Indeed, they do share identical elements, from a knack for similar twists to shared photographic details (such as the cityscape zoom-in and zoom-out that bookends the 2013 movie). 

Yet Soderbergh’s flick is no remake: it will not earn the eternal reverence towards Hitch’s 1960 classic and is not bound to inspire nightmares among the squeamish. But it does offer the pleasures of storytelling deception — almost like English director Danny Boyle’s "Trance," but less trippy, less baffling.

“Side Effects” is a comparatively low-key, not-so-mainstream theatrical release, one that also brings Soderbergh’s filmography full circle: his debut, the 1989 Palme d’Or-earning “sex, lies, and videotape,” was itself a fairly small, unconventional movie.

“Side Effects” may not rank with the best or the most favored in the man’s oeuvre, yet it still deserves discriminating viewers who seek cinematic thrills in this era of blockbusting predictability. 

Here is a trailer for ‘Side Effects’: 

Whether “Side Effects” is a yawning “trick” or an engaging treat is ultimately in the eye of the moviegoing beholder. - 


‘Side Effects’, rated R-13 by the MTRCB, is showing exclusively in SM Cinemas across the Philippines.