What is Steven Soderbergh’s new film, Side Effects, about? The title suggests something having to do with medication or pharmaceuticals, and the somewhat cryptic trailer confirms this, introducing us to a character played by Rooney Mara who battles depression, and the psychiatrist, played by Jude Law, who treats her. Sure. But what kind of movie is Side Effects? That’s an entirely different question, and one that leads me to this simple piece of advice:
Do not read anything about Side Effects. Don’t read any reviews or profiles or even, if you can help it, headlines. For those headlines just might reveal that Side Effects is actually a…
But here I’ll stop. In general, I have no problem with spoilers; I’ve often argued that reading spoilers after a movie is released or a TV show airs is the price slowpokes have to pay for lively cultural discourse. Nevertheless, I understand that hardly anyone wants the plot of a movie spoiled ahead of time—it’s no fun knowing that this character gets killed halfway through, or that it turns out that character is actually the bad guy.
But those are micro-spoilers—plot twists that affect one’s moment-to-moment enjoyment of a movie. Side Effects has plenty of twists, sure, but the thing I liked best about it was that it wasn’t at all the kind of movie I thought it was. And so I am glad I avoided macro-spoilers, too: I never read a preview, for example, that told me that actually, the pharmaceutical plot—well, never mind.
Think of the difference between macro- and micro-spoilers in the context of a movie like The Crying Game. (Micro- and macro-spoilers for The Crying Game ahead!) The micro-spoiler is that Jaye Davidson is a dude. The macro-spoiler—the one that, I argue, knowing would make the movie way less enjoyable—is that it’s not actually an IRA thriller but a drama of loss, love, and making amends.
My wife saw Midnight in Paris without knowing anything about it other than that it was a Woody Allen romantic comedy. So discovering, halfway through, that it’s actually a time-travel comedy was quite a delight. Adaptation is a lot more fun if you don’t know, going in, that it’s not just a comedy about screenwriting but a metafictional ode to the challenges of literary adaptation. And you’ll have a much better time at Side Effects if you don’t read reviews, even ones (like Dana Stevens’ on Slate) that tread extremely carefully around both micro- and macro-spoilers.
Instead, just see it! On the Soderbergh Completist scale, it’s a Worthwhile Divertissement—I’d slot it right between Contagion and Ocean’s 12. Once you’ve seen it, come back and read Dana’s review, listen to our podcast, and spoil with abandon in conversations with friends. But until then, let these be the last words you read about Steven Soderbergh’s amazing animated talking-moose musical Side Effects.