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With 'Side Effects,' more evidence of a bad movie prescription

February 11, 2013|By Steven Zeitchik
  • Jude Law in a scene from the movie "Side Effects."
Jude Law in a scene from the movie "Side Effects." (Open Road Films )

The current state of our healthcare system, and especially the pervasiveness of prescription pills, have been the subject of great and compelling interest to news outlets over the last few years. But it's not exactly been the stuff of great multiplex excitement.

We received more proof this weekend with the opening of “Side Effects” . The movie, which tells of a troubled woman (Rooney Mara) for whom things begin to go askew when she tries a new psychiatric medication, grossed a dismal $10 million in U.S. theaters despite the presence of popular stars (Channing Tatum plays Mara's husband) and stellar reviews.

Yes, I know, iffy marketing campaigns and Steven Soderbergh and all that. (The director, as my colleague Amy Kaufman notes, isn’t a consistent draw). And it's easy to wonder if the film might have done slightly better with a stronger title. (The movie was originally called "The Bitter Pill," an improvement, after a fashion.) But it’s hard not to feel as if the subject matter isn’t also responsible, at least a little, for the poor showing of “Side Effects.”

A couple years back, Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway couldn’t turn another pill-themed story, “Love and Other Drugs,” into rom-com gold. Reese Witherspoon has all but given up trying to get her passion project about a woman working her way in the pharmaceutical business (with the admittedly unfortunate name of “Pharm Girl”) up and running.

Review: Side Effects

It’s a shame.  As my colleagues' recent investigation into prescription pills shows, stories about drug companies and the medical-industrial complex they're a part of make for some for the most dramatic stories of our time.

What’s more, big pharma is the subject of some of great screen thrillers and mysteries of the last two decades, including “The Fugitive" and “The Constant Gardener.” Heck, every third episode of the long-running “House” seemed to tell a story about questionable  drugs.

We live in a culture more soaked than ever in pills and self-medication. Unfortunately, we don’t seem to want to immerse ourselves in movies about them. It's increasingly likely Hollywood won't want to either.

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Movie review: Side Effects

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