Directed By: Kathleen Slattery-Moschkau
Starring: Katherine Heigl, Lucian McAfee, Dorian DeMichele, Dave Durbin, Temecka Harris
Note: This 2005 film was previously released on DVD in May of 2006 by independent distributor Pro-Active Entertainment. This re-release, packaged with nearly identical cover art, is from New Line Cinema, and appears to eliminate a handful of extras inclusive of an audio commentary, an excerpt from a documentary on issues with the pharmaceutical industry, and a trailer that were available on the earlier release.
Side Effects follows the travails of pharmaceutical representative Karly Hert (Heigl). As we meet her, Karly is becoming disillusioned with her ethically questionable job hawking drugs to doctors in her sales region in Wisconsin. After striking up a relationship with earthy pragmatic Zach (McAFee), she decides to quit her job and find a more personally fulfilling way to spend her time. She gives herself six months to cut ties with her company. In the absence of any concern for her future with the company, she begins taking a more straightforward and relaxed approach to her sales pitches. Ironically, she finds this new approach results in record sales, and by the time her six months is up, she is receiving massive bonuses and being groomed as a protégé by her ice queen manager, Jacqueline (DeMichele). The seductive power of money begins to chip away at Karly's ethical concerns, threatening to derail her personal life in the process.
This ultra-low-budget production was a labor of love for first-time writer-producer-director Kathleen Slattery-Moschkau, who worked as a pharmaceutical representative for a number of years, and clearly had an axe to grind with respect to the ethically dubious nature of legally "pushing" drugs. Unfortunately, the film is rendered so amateurishly, beginning with the screenplay and moving on through to the performances and direction, that it is downright unpleasant to watch.
While the subject matter seems ripe for satire, Slattery-Moschkau's screenplay applies a heavy handed approach that makes the film feel at times more like a public service announcement than a dramatic enterprise. This effect is underlined by the use of factoid text screens and faux interview segments as interstitial segments in the film. The corporate drug company bigwigs are all played as unredeemably greedy villains who do everything short of twirl their waxed moustaches while tying helpless victims to railroad tracks. Dramatically, the character arc of Karly is undermined by giving her more or less smoking gun evidence of unethical activities by her company which makes whatever conflicts she was experiencing about her life decisions more or less moot at the film's climax.
In terms of performance, only Heigl manages to suggest the skills of a professional actor. Lucian McAfee manages not to embarrass himself by heavily underplaying his role as Heigl's romantic interest, but the screenplay which seems more interested in making him a Jiminy Cricket than a romantic interest for Karly, does him no favors.
Technically, Slattery-Moschkau falls into a number of first time filmmaker traps, inclusive of the TV-like excessive use of close-ups to the point that they have almost no impact. Editorially, Slatery-Moschkau seems incapable of abandoning ideas regardless of how they contribute to the film's success, and we are left with a disorganized film with disorienting shifts in tone and subplots that go nowhere such as romantic advances between Carly's bosses and a complicated relationship with her father that serves no purpose other than to inefficiently establish why she might crave financial security. Additionally, the soundtrack makes excessive use of songs to underline nearly every dramatic moment which reminded me of a student who lived on my floor in college who yellow-highlighted nearly every word in a text book he was studying. The songs are all from various indie bands, with some better than others, but the overall result detracts from the film's dramatic and emotional thrust.
Watching the film, one gets the impression that Slattery-Moschkau had a tremendous amount of passion for the issues surrounding the pharmaceutical industry in the USA, but that her efforts may have been better spent making a documentary on the subject. This was eventually born out by her next project, co-directing a documentary called Money Talks - Profits Before Patient Safety.
The transfer fills the entire 16:9 enhanced frame. The film's low budget origins are exposed by its presentation, particularly in the exteriors which are frequently shot with available light with bright areas of the screen (such as the entire sky in certain scenes) blown out in contrast. Interiors are better but generally a bit soft and excessively grainy. A lot of the above issues seem to stem from the fact that the film was shot digitally, but the DVD presentation is derived from a film transfer of the digital source which has been subsequently transferred back to digital video. The encoding to disc suffers from some low intensity edge artifacts that will be noticeable on large projection displays.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track also betrays the film's low-budget origins. Fidelity is good and the track is almost certainly an accurate representation of the theatrical mix, but the mix itself has some problems. Foley effects are occasionally a bit crude and too-high in volume while numerous instances of dialog replacement are out of synchronization with the actors' lip movements. The most egregious instance of this is a scene between Heigl and the actor playing her father where she gives him some "gas money" after he stops by to visit her. The lip sync is so bad that I suspect that the actors' lines were changed in post production. An English Dolby Digital 2.0 track is also provided.
Filmmaker Intro (:45) Slattery-Moschkau welcomes the viewer and thanks them for watching her low-budget labor of love
Commentary with writer/director/producer Kathleen Slattery-Moschkau is a fairly breathless screen specific commentary that covers nearly every aspect of the film's production. There are moments where she spends a lot of time stating the obvious and her unbridled enthusiasm for countless aspects of the production that left her "blown away" by how wonderful they were can be a bit taxing on the listener. That being said, fans of the film or of low-budget filmmaking in general will find lots of behind the scenes information packed into this track
The Making of Side Effects (4:3 - 3:40) is a brief set of interview clips with Slattery-Moschkau on various aspects of the film including working with Heigl, the break-neck sixteen day shoot, the "dance scene", and the film's purpose and message.
Outtakes & Bloopers (4:3 LB - 1:12) is a mercifully brief assemblage of the usual goofs and flubbed lines. The best bit involves problems with a fake dead bird from a scene that was not in the finished film but appears in the deleted scenes.
Vivexx Commercials Contest Winners (5:50) – While no context is offered about the nature of the "contest", this features consists of ten mock commercials for the drug from the film from various amateur filmmakers. The clips are identified as follows:
- Mangolicious by Angie Griffin
- Uppy Jones by Yann Mabille and Will Robertson
- Get Perfection by Michael Savage
- Vivexx - Sex Sells by Douglas Amport
- Marana High School Movie Makers Club Vivexx Commercial by Paige Corona, Lydia Haley, Naomi Haley, Bian Farnsworth, Danae Norris, Rosa Cano, Amanda Hutson, and Jennifer Bowman
- Vivexx: Live Fast by Mike Colonna
- No Bad Dayz by Dustin Rubin, John Lyons Murphy, Mitch Monzon, and Wes Nickerson III
- Tired of Being a Total Loser by Dennis Boyle, Jake Heinecke, and Matt Forrest
- Stop Waiting by Dylan Sanford
- Vivexx - The Breakthrough New Treatment for HDD by Chris Nidel, James Nidel, Mike Nidel, William Sidman (with Steven Blackburn and Mike Goodstein)
Deleted Scenes (4:3 LB - 3:55) consists of seven brief deleted scenes, most involving development of supporting characters, five out of seven involve Karly's roommate, Grace, played by Temecka Harris. The scenes have chapter stops but are not selectable individually from the DVD menu.
Sneak Peeks – Is a menu item that launches the same series of skippable promos that play automatically when the disc is inserted. They all seem pretty out of date. All are presented in 4:3 video, letterboxed when appropriate, unless otherwise indicated below:
- Theatrical trailer for El Cantante (4:3 full frame – 2:21)
- DVD Trailer for Safe Harbor (16:9 enhanced - :32)
- Short Trailer for The King of Kong (A Fistful of Quarters) (:32)
- Short Trailer for Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus (:32)
- DVD Trailer for How to Lose Your Lover (:51)
The film is presented on a single dual-layered disc in a standard Amaray case. The cover image is a pretty lame Photoshop assemblage, but it at least related to the film's content and is consistent with its low-budget aesthetic.
Side Effects amounts to a screed against the US pharmaceutical industry marketed as a romantic comedy that is only fitfully romantic or comedic. The film is too technically amateurish to achieve the Erin Brockovich/Norma Rae-style aspirations of its writer/producer/director, and will likely be of interest primarily to fans interested in the pharmaceutical industry or in a pre-stardom Katherine Heigl. Either group is bound to be disappointed. Its presentation on disc is hamstrung by its derivation from a film transfer of a low budget digital production. The workable but unpolished sound mix is presented via nearly indistinguishable Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 tracks. Extras are large in number, but only the audio commentary from Kathleen Slattery-Moschkau is of much substance. Some extra features appear to have been deleted from a previous release of the film on DVD.