America is all about business. While this concept is readily apparent in the jobs we take and the commercialism around us, most American’s don’t realize how far down big business goes. From the news we watch to how we take care of our bodies there are businesses at work trying to influence the American public to their own means. Attempting to sound the alarm against the pharmaceutical industry for which she worked for years, Kathleen Slattery-Moschkau’s “Side Effects” is a well meaning but flawed examination of the behind the scenes workings of one of our country’s most successful and dangerous businesses.
Karly Hert (Katherine Heigl) is fresh out of college with a political science degree and surprised to learn that a successful pharmaceutical firm wants her to be a sales representative. Suspicious at first, since she know’s nothing about the medical industry, Karly’s fears are put to rest once the keys to the company car are handed over and the money begins to flow. Years pass and Karly grows tired of the red tape surrounding her, having to serve as merely a pretty face to help peddle new drugs to doctors. Inspired by Zach (Lucian McAfee), a fellow free spirit who is disgusted by the dirty dealing within the medical field, Karly gives herself six months time to leave her job and decides to begin telling the truth in the meantime, exposing the drugs she sells for what they really are.
Both Kathleen Slattery-Moschkau and Katherine Heigl are to be congratulated for their work on this project, Slattery-Moschkau for tackling a hard subject head on and Heigl for making the film flow thanks to her charismatic presence. Both women make “Side Effects” entertaining, however, they cannot overcome some major hurdles. Quite simply the story is too black and white to be at all effective. When Karly begins telling doctors how the drugs really work, including the side effects, she is a hit within the pharmaceutical community and her sales begin to skyrocket thanks to her honesty. While this development could provide some interesting possibilities, Karly’s sudden success turns her into a corporate sellout, making her into the very sort of rep she had aspired not to become. Her relationship with Zach becomes strained and Karly is forced to choose between staying with the big bad company or leaving for the descent, noble boyfriend. The film could have explored Karly attempting to make a difference within the company, but “Side Effects” seems to be making the case that success equals sell out, despite the fact that Karly’s success stemmed from her trying to do the right thing. As nice of a job McAfee does as Zach, he never feels like a real character and more of dreamy good guy. By painting the world in such a black and white manner, Slattery-Moschkau robs her film of the power it could have had using a more three dimensional story of a young woman trying to make a difference in an uncaring industry.
Battles like these need to be fought and in terms of making a film from the heart, Slattery-Moschkau is an inspiration, but while possessing a timely message regarding big business, “Side Effects” suffers as a film.