I think it is safe to say we all recognize it's awards season. It's that special time of year when Sunday nights seem less depressing, Entertainment Tonight claims a more importnat role in our daily regimen and conversations morph from water cooler mundane ennuie to Hollywood goings on. That special something infiltrates the air and unfilled weekend hours all of a sudden provide untapped potential. Awards-nominated movies await.
We've passed all the minor league shows so far from the SAGs to the Golden Globes and PCA's --and I've felt moderately to confidently comfortable in my nominated-movie viewership. Les Miserables was a glorious soprano-to-tenor-laden must see, Zero Dark Thirty an epic history-meets-fiction drama, and Argo...well, what else is there to say really other than we all love you, Ben Affleck. The other nominated titles surely warrant viewings from some (read Lincoln) but occupy a deprioritized rung on my personal pop culture ladder. I always enjoy a good last minute "oh no, I need to get to the movie theater ASAP and see a triple today, the (insert awards show) are tomorrow" run. Always have and always will. Today, however, I took a bit of a different turn.
Yeah so, as we all know, Blizzard Nemo found her way to the east coast yesterday, including Manhattan, and even though city life here in NYC remained unsurprisingly unaffected, I felt it my personal and cultural duty to abide by the drastic-weather-induced rules: don lofty boots, imbibe, and watch movies. (I did half-heartedly possess a desire to see Bloomingdales at half occupancy, however I successfully managed to repress this desire). My 8a - 1p morning of drinking way too much coffee, gyming, and staring out at the snow without leaving my way-too-far-east apartment was motivation enough to obey cultural standards.
That in hand, off to moviefone.com I went. There were only two acceptable options: the last unviewed nominated film, Silver Linings Playbook, or the one that truly appealed to my psychologically-inclined analytical self: Side Effects. Jude Law + Rooney Mara + CZJ + psychological drama...the answer was clear. Off I went to Side Effects. It is here that I wish to commence my subjective cinematic analysis.
It has been far too long that I have been so startlingly refreshed by a widespread non-awards-show-touted film as I was by Side Effects. Steven Soderbergh's (and advance warning for any spoilers) psychological, at times fucked-up thriller, is brilliantly able to combine a modern day financial-scandal-infused societal portrayal with a psychiatric study so genuine that even the MD's in the audience likely will not flinch. (Well, maybe at times but few and far between). The film commences with Emily (the starkly bold Rooney Mara), an attractive married Manhattan twenty-something, who we are deceivingly led to believe will be our protagonist throughout the nearly 110 minutes. Her husband, Magic Mike's breakout star Channing Tatum, is a wall-street-gone-bad former inmate who, we learn early on, does not have the starring role trailers lead us to think. Enough said there, I will try to refrain as much as possible from full spoilers. Ms. Mara's Emily, like the rest of twenty-first century urban America, is seemingly anxious slash mildly depressed and when her new anti-depressant Ablixa (prescribed by Jude Law's Dr. Banks) causes her to "sleep-walking-and-unknowingly" stab her husband, she immediately grabs our empathy. Jude Law's life and psychiatrist MD career are jeopardized in a heartbeat, pinning him at the center of the murder case. How could he prescribe such a detrimental, violence-inducing drug to an "innocent" young urbanite? Cue Catherine Zeta Jones. Jones portrays Emily's former psychiatrist (and secondary but no-less-important role which will remain unnamed so as not to hinder film earnings from blog-reading peers), Dr. Victoria Seibert, who occupies an intriguing, what we know will be instrumental role. Her character plays perhaps third fiddle to Law, a surprise for CZJ, throughout the film, and it is not until the last half hour that we truly grasp the importance of her role to the film's plot. I will leave the subsequent details of that piece and the film's ultimate conclusion unwritten.
Suffice to say, Soderbergh's mind-bending, at times disturbing, psychological thriller is a masterful work of cinematic genius. It successfully straddles the line between intelligent character study and every-man thriller. Soderbergh provides us with a (although at times perhaps slightly unrealistic) profound look at the consequences of a nouveau-riche dishonest life as well as a suspenseful, lust-filled mystery that changes course just when we think we've solved it. It is a rare occasion when I feel truly confident in recommending a non-awards-show-you-must-see-this-out-of-obligation film to all, and Soderbergh has finally allowed me to do just that. Side Effects earns an A in my cinematic grade book, and here's to hoping more films follow in its witty, smart, scarily intense suit.