Marital Difficulties. Movies Reviewed: Side Effects, All in Good Time.
Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.
After last week’s dip into low-brow genre movies, I’m back with some higher-brow dramas, suitable for viewing by grown-ups. This week I’m looking two enjoyable movies about marital difficulties. One’s a light family drama from the UK about newlyweds, and an American suspense/drama about the effect of prescription drugs on a young couple.
Dir: Stephen Soderbergh
Emily (Rooney Mara) is young woman married to a Wall Street broker who’s in prison for insider trading. She’s nervous but excited – Martin (Channing Tatum) is getting out: they’ll be together again after four years. But she’s getting more and more nervous. They were barely newlyweds when he was locked up and she’s worried about their relationship. Can their marriage just pick up where they left off?
So when things don’t live up to their potential (bad sex) Emily spontaneously steps on the gas in a parking garage and drives her car, full speed, into a concrete wall. In the emergency room she’s treated by a psychiatrist, Dr Banks (Jude Law).
He’s kindly and honest, but also scruffy and middle aged. He’s married to a brittle, ambitious Wall Street trader. So he’s touched by Emily’s stunning beauty, youth and neediness, and really wants to help her out. (Perhaps he even has romantic thoughts?)
So, after checking with her previous psychiatrist, the sultry Dr Siebert, (Catherine Zeta-Jones) he takes on her case and starts prescribing various medications – Zoloft, Abrixa — to ease depression, others to modify the side effects of the antidepressants, mood stabilizers… But they seem to just make things worse. Then a pharmacy saleswoman gets him to sign on for a lucrative, new drug-testing program – he needs the money.
But what about the side effects of all these drugs? For Emily, they lead to sleep-walking, bizarre mood changes, strange sexual response, and, eventually, to a bizarre, shocking incident. The case explodes onto the front pages, and the hapless doctor is drawn into a complicated drama. Suddenly his marriage is at risk, his career is in jeopardy and his private life is interrupted by droves of reporters. Who’s to blame? The drug company? The psychiatrist? The patient?
Full disclosure: I can’t stand most of Stephen Soderbergh’s recent movies. They’re misanthropic, bleak, drab, depressing. The people in his movies all seem obsessed with the crass problems of everyday life: things like real estate, accounting, medical problems, career advancement… as opposed to love, passion, family, art, religion or morality. They are also often incredibly drab in style – just blah. Especially lately, with terrible movies like The Girlfriend Experiment, The Informant, and Magic Mike. Never mind his five-hour snoozefest about Che Guevara.
I’m not saying he doesn’t know what he’s doing; he does. He constructs formulaic dramas in a spare style. I just don’t like them: they’re disturbing or distressing, not fun at all (not like some of his old stuff, like the terrific Out of Sight.)
But…but…but… That said, I actually really liked this movie! It has enough twists and shocks and plot turns to keep me glued to the screen. It starts as a straightforward, slow-moving drama, but becomes suspenseful, psychological drama, where even the doctor forced to question his own sanity. He also plays around with conventions, turning some on their head. The film and the camera function as unreliable narrators: what you see is not necessarily what happened.
Rooney Mara and Jude Law are great in this movie, and Channing Tatum does his usual job. But Zeta-Jones, on the other hand, stands out like a sore thumb. She’s unbelievably awful. It’s a smaller role, but still, just putting on a pair of glasses and pulling back your hair doesn’t equal “psychiatrist”. She looks and acts like a breathy soap-opera character – nothing like a doctor in a realistic drama. Is it just this movie, or is she always this terrible? Anyway, she’s not enough to ruin the movie. I really liked Side Effects.
Dir: Nigel Cole
Things are great at the wedding. amid the jumble and confusion of two extended families living near Manchester, in the UK. Working-class Atul (Reese Ritchie) hangs out in a movie theatre and still lives with his parents in a council flat, while the much richer Vina (Amara Karan) is accustomed to a posher lifestyle. The newlyweds are quite in love. But, since the wedding, as his mother says, there has “been no planting in the Shalimar Gardens.” With his dad snoring and farting through the thin walls, Atul can’t get it up. And when word leaks out — via a trio of gossipy popcorn ladies at the local Bollywood show-palace — the scandal grows. He hasn’t yet shown his manhood – was the wedding just a failure?
His father, Eeshwar (Harish Patel), is a self-centred, bombastic boor, given to arm-wrestling and bad jokes. He’s constantly at war with his son. Things aren’t helped by a generation gap and Eeshwar’s own obsession with one-upmanship. Atul’s mother is much more understanding and pragmatic and is trying to get things back to normal. She reminds Eeshwar that their marriage also had a rocky start.
Will father and son ever see eye-to-eye? Will love keep the newlyweds together, or will stress destroy their marriage before it even starts? All In Good Time is adapted from a play by by UK playright Ayub Khan-Din, who did the fantastic East is East and its sequel West is West. And his was adapted from the 1960’s play All in Good Time (by Bill Naughton, who brought us Alfie), but set within a UK South Asian community. The father and son, the main characters (Patel and Richie) are just great, as are all of the female actors.
This movie is confusing and messy in the beginning, and takes a while to get into its groove, but when it does, it’s just delightful. Director Nigel Cole (known for Made in Dagenham and other small English dramas) is in fine form. All in Good Time is a very enjoyable romantic family drama.
Side Effects and All in Good Time both open today in Toronto. Also playing and worth checking out are some great documentaries, including West of Memphis, a epic documentary that tells the decades long story of three teenagers in small-town Arkansas who were arrested and charged with the satanic murder of a teenager… This is a harrowing case where the DA’s evidence consisted mainly of the fact that they wore black and listened to heavy metal bands. Check your local listings for times and screens.
This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com .