The following conversation was recorded on Friday, February 15, at Trastavere, a restaurant on the Santa Monica Promenade, after a 4:40pm showing of “Side Effects” at the Criterion Theatre. It contains multiple spoilers.
CAROL BAUM: It’s very noisy here.
TOM BAUM: Well, we can’t wait till we’re in the car or we’ll forget. I looked at my watch twice.
CB: I didn’t see you look at your watch.
TB: Well, I liked it anyway. I look forward to every frame in a Soderbergh movie. There wasn’t one ordinary shot. This is a very large martini.
CB: You liked it more than I did. I didn’t really get into it for a long while. Rooney Mara’s crying fits got on my nerves, and I was waiting for the twist to happen.
TB: Me too. Absolutely.
CB: One drug after another and I knew something else had to happen and it was tedious waiting for her to be the bad girl.
TB: Took way too long.
CB: In classic noirs, when there’s a femme fatale, she always has some sort of twinkle. Rooney Mara was crying all the time, and even after we knew she was the villain she’s still crying.
TB: She smiled once. But so beautiful.
CB: And when Jude Law was being framed…I thought that took too long too. Is it a very long movie?
TB: When did we get out of there? I think like an hour and forty-five minutes at the most. On Film Week, they said you have to watch very carefully. I don’t know what they meant, do you? Were they referring to when Jude Law was sitting next to Rooney Mara and he reached out and put his hand on her? That was obviously crossing a line, and it was there just so it could show up in the incriminating photographs that made his wife desert him.
CB: That lesbian thing felt old.
TB: Totally cheesy.
CB: What other movies had lesbians in cahoots? I feel like there were three of them. “Basic Instinct,” and that one Wesley Strick wrote…Phil Joanou directed it… also with a psychiatrist—
TB: “Final Analysis.” Were there lesbians?
CB: And that Benton picture with Meryl Streep, what was it?
TB: Something about the moon.
CB: “Still of the Night.” Roy Scheider played a shrink—
TB: I don’t think there were lesbians in that one.
CB: But I just love Jude Law.
TB: He’s so watchable.
CB: He’s so good. I wanted him to get nominated for “Anna Karenina.” He’s underappreciated.
TB: But he’s prescribing all these drugs—
CB: —yes, and even at the end, when he has his revenge, and he gets his life back, there’s nothing about whether he was careless about prescribing. We never know how he feels about this. Or what Soderbergh thinks about it. I never want to take another prescription drug. That was the message of the movie for me.
TB: The drug theme has no payoff. Jude Law doesn’t say, “I’m never prescribing anti-depressants again.” He never does any talk therapy with her, there’s no scene where he says, “OK, talk isn’t working, I’ll give you drugs.” He agrees to do clinical trials with an unknown drug—
CB: To me that was morally questionable.
TB: It was sort of a red herring. Just so something else could go bad with his life. He’s nice to his stepson, he’s a good husband, but he buys into the whole anti-depressant culture, and that’s why the rooting interest doesn’t kick in until he gets fucked over. It’s just a revenge story .
CB: And I didn’t think he should go back with that wife who kicked him out.
TB: Vinessa Shaw is so beautiful. What city was that?
CB: I did like how the dialogue came in earlier than the visuals. That seemed unusual.
TB: There’s even a term for that. I’ve heard it called pre-lap. They used to do that a lot in the 60s. What I didn’t understand was why Rooney Mara told Jude Law everything. Did she think he and Catherine Zeta-Jones were in cahoots at that point? Is that why Jude Law shook Catherine Zeta-Jones’ hand outside the hospital? How did he know Rooney Mara would be watching? That was a little convenient.
CB: But I loved how he shot that revelation scene—the wedding where Channing Tatum gets arrested for insider trading.
TB: I didn’t think it was that special.
CB: I did. But why did Rooney Mara fall asleep when he gave her the fake truth serum?
TB: Why did she agree to take it in the first place? But yeah, why did she fall asleep? She wasn’t losing control of her conscious mind. Why didn’t she just continue to lie? Did she think the truth serum was going to kick in eventually? Though it works great when Jude Law reveals it was just saline solution.
CB: Do you have a napkin? Oh wait, here’s mine. You knew Catherine Zeta-Jones was bad from the beginning.
TB: She’s always a villain.
CB: She’s become a cliché. And that scene where she takes off her shrink glasses to have lesbian sex—that was laughable. Do you think her being bipolar informed her performance?
TB: She’s bipolar?
CB: I read it in People. This agent I was talking to said she saw the whole twist coming.
TB: That Rooney Mara was going to kill Channing Tatum? The whole selling the stock short thing? Good for her. (to the waiter) Carbonara’s mine. (to Carol) There’s a lot of garlic in your spaghetti.
CB: Whole pieces of garlic. Killing that nice Channing Tatum in a movie. That’s going too far. I knew she was going to do something when she was chopping vegetables with a huge knife. What would De Palma or Hitchcock have done with that scene? Like when Angie Dickinson gets killed in “Dressed to Kill.” Or Janet Leigh in “Psycho.” So much more shocking.
TB: It just wasn’t as much fun as it should be.
CB: It’s entertaining enough but there’s something depressing overall. The people are so bummed all the time. This was basically a Joe Eszterhas movie, and it wasn’t trashy enough. It’s too restrained. He should be slumming with the trashiness of the plot.
TB: Soderbergh is such a cool customer. His movies are always sort of detached. I mean he’s such a phenom…but maybe when you write…he didn’t write this one, but maybe when you write, direct, light, operate, edit…maybe everything becomes about the technique. Peter Hyams is another example of a guy who does everything…totally impersonal…though Soderbergh is way better. But he doesn’t really get involved, he’s just watching all these people. Maybe he’s going for moral ambiguity. But it’s hard to do moral ambiguity when you’re turning the table on the bad guys.
CB: You want more David Kelley, where you hear both sides, and it’s rousing. We don’t cheer for Jude Law when he wins.
TB: “Erin Brockovich” took a stand. But that was before he got fancier. I mean his movies always look great and he just gets better and better and even on a budget. Maybe because he’s not waiting for anybody except the actors. I think if you saw “Erin Brockovich” today you wouldn’t think it was a Soderbergh movie.
CB: You might think it was a Gus Van Sant movie.
TB: Do you realize who that blonde was at that gala they go to? Mamie Gummer. Meryl Streep’s daughter. Looking much older than on that CW show.
CB: “Emily Owens, M.D.”
TB: And what was that about “daddy issues”?
CB: That was just dropped in there. Rooney Mara had no backstory.
TB: But the Styron thing was great—the quote she steals from “Darkness Visible,” and how she plays it off.
CB: I loved that.
TB: The movie does get better, instead of worse.
CB: It’s very carefully put together. I just wish he’d reveled in it more. But I hope he’s just bluffing about retiring.
TB: Me too. I’d go to anything he directs. The performances were all good. All the small parts are good…the scenes with the D.A…the defense attorney was good…
CB: The black guy interviewing Jude Law—
TB: That was really good.
CB: There’s something off-putting about Rooney Mara. But I’d like to see the Mara sisters together. They’ve both been playing hard cases for too long.
TB: Give them a break. They’ve only just started.
CB: The Coens should remake “Sisters” and cast them in it.
TB: Didn’t Margo Kidder play both sisters?
CB: They’d change it. This spaghetti is all oil. It’s not that easy a movie to recommend.
TB: Because everything kicks in too late.
CB: And not enough trashy fun.