LAKE OCONEE — “Side Effects”
Rated R (for sexuality, nudity, violence and language).
“Side Effects” or “Identity Thief”? Which movie, opening this last weekend, should I, the Film Critic, and She, the Critical, see? Well, she told me that I much preferred to see Jude Law, of course, and that the early critics (the real ones, not the un-credited charlatans such as I) eviscerated “Identity Thief” and praised “Side Effects”. So, She said we needed to see “Side Effects”.
Well, the critic in me made me curious about “Side Effects”. The He did what a He does—what She says. I don’t get Variety and I did not go to film critic school, so I don’t know if there is a term for it, so I will make it up. The Critic Audience Movie Spread (or the CAM Spread). This is when the critics rate a movie much higher than the audience or the audience rates the movie higher than the critics. For example: “Side Effects”, according to www.rottentomatoes.com on Feb. 10 at 8 a.m., has a Critics Rating for “Side Effects” of 85 while the Audience gave it a rating of 70. And according to the same site, the CAM Spread is the reverse with “Identity Thief”: Critics rate it a 24 while the Audience gave it a 74. So, “Side Effects” has a CAM Spread score of +15 while “Identity Thief” has a CAM Spread score of -50. Very curious to me, perhaps not to you, but interesting to ponder, I submit. Let it simmer in the back of your mind and I will check back with you later.
At the beginning of “Side Effects”, it appears to be a story of a young woman named Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara). She lived the high life; but her husband was a Wall Streeter, a young buck who got caught up in insider trading, was arrested and sent to spend four years in prison. She waited for him, but as soon as he returned, she becomes deeply depressed and tries to kill herself. She goes to psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) who is just trying to build a practice and a personal relationship with his wife and a stepson. The first half of the movie seems about to be Emily’s sad descent into madness—then she commits murder.
Quickly, the movie shifts to Dr. Banks’ point of view. He finds his life fall from a bright promise to dire desperation. He loses his practice and his family because of his association to his patient’s murder. Was the doctor’s prescription pad the reason she killed her husband? Perhaps he had a sexual relationship with her? Tongues are wagging, rumors are spreading. Soon, he will be totally and irrevocably ruined, perhaps even lose his license.
But something just does not ring true to Dr. Banks. Was he a patsy for some elaborate con? He looks into it—without authority—and discovers a horrific possibility that includes his destruction, simply as collateral damage. And so he begins to fight back but not like most Hollywood film solutions; it does not require stretching the Second Amendment and enriching the NRA. Jude Law did not have to scarf up steroids in order to tote automatic cannons with one hand and crunch in faces with his fist. No, his way out of this conundrum requires wit, cleverness and manipulation of the constipated bureaucracy of the justice system.
There is a touch of Hitchcock in this film. The dialogue, at first, is all subdued and ordinary. The film was shot with a dismal digital technique that makes everything look so dull and dreary, perhaps making a statement, that blue skies and sunny days elude us and that we live in a world of dingy glass, neon lighting and rain. And, as the film nears the end, we see the reality: sordid, sad, a society where people can get away with murder and character assassination. Or maybe not; perhaps justice can be achieved, without artillery, without heroic, mythical lawyers, but with grit and brains.
Critics love this kind of movie, the Audience: not so much. It may have a tad too much atmosphere and not enough action; perhaps too much reality and not enough escapism; perhaps the dialog is too ordinary and not enough repartee and cool catch phrases; perhaps a film such as this comes far too close to reminding us that we are one step away from losing everything and there are no superheroes out there to pull us out of that hole. That we have to write our own happy ending; that even those closest to us, will walk away until we save ourselves.
Such films as “Side Effects” have a side effect. It is called Negative Audience CAM Spread. That should not deter serious film lovers who don’t mind exercising their mind. On the contrary, it should entice them; it should embolden them to see a film eager to respect the Audience rather than to pander to them.
There is nothing wrong with pratfall comedy; but, at the same time, there is nothing wrong with a film that stimulates our brain cells rather than fondle our heart or secret our bile.
“Side Effects” scores four bow ties out of five.