Movie Review: “Side Effects”

Katherine Heigl
The 2005 flim, Side Effects , is a romantic-comedy-slash-corporate-critique, an awkward cross between a spunky-girl comedy (think Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, or Jennifer Aniston in just about anything) and a moralistic after-school special.

The film stars Katherine Heigl (of tv’s Grey’s Anatomy) as Karly, a drug rep torn between her distaste for the industry she works for and her zest for the things her ever-increasing paycheques can buy. There’s a love interest, of course — earthy and earnest “Zach” (played by Lucian McAfee) — as well as a ne’er-do-well dad and a room-mate who tries to keep Karly grounded.

The film is pretty uneven: some of the actors are apparently first-timers, and it shows. As for the script, the attempt to sugar-coat the strident criticism of a much-maligned industry by putting it at the centre of a romantic comedy never quite works: there are too many times, for instance, when either the romance or the comedy is interrupted by one of the characters speechifying about how nasty drug companies are. But Heigle herself is sufficiently charismatic that she can very nearly carry the whole shebang. And the subject matter — the shenanigans that are the bread-and-butter of drug reps, and the disreputable activities that have sometimes gone into bringing “blockbuster” drugs to market — will be enough to keep a certain number of viewers glued to the screen.

Side Effects was directed by one-time drug rep Kathleen Slattery-Moschkau. While it may not be a great cinematic achievement, the film is a useful introduction to the whole panoply of criticisms launched at the pharmaceutical industry over the last few years. Among the disreputable activities portrayed in the film:

  • “Bribing” clinicians with free lunches, product give-aways, etc.;
  • Having under-informed drug reps “educate” physicians on the virtues of new drugs;
  • Inflated pricing;
  • Playing up small increases in “efficacy,” while failing to mention side-effects;
  • Manipulation of research results to cover up dangerous (even fatal) side-effects.

A final note: the least plausible element of the movie: at the annual “Drug Rep of the Year” banquet at the film’s end, Karly is the only beautiful 20-something blonde in attendance. To understand how odd that is, see this story in the NY Times.

Relevant Links:
Side Effects @ Internet Movie Database
Side Effects official website

Amazon Links:
Side Effects (DVD)

[Full disclosure: This review is based upon a free copy of the DVD, solicited from the production company.]

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