Side Effects is a comedy that comments on the current state of physician advertising via the so called pharmaceutical reps. While far from a documentary, it does impart a fair amount of information along the way, like that there is one pharmaceutical rep for every four doctors in the country.
The film stars Katherine Heigl, better known as “Izzie” from Gray’s Anatomy. She hangs up her white coat for this Side Effects, and sees how the other half lives. She decides to become a pharmaceutical rep, and the film starts with her recruitment. With the offer of a free company car, she is hooked on this new career path.
As time goes on, she is less sure of her career choice. She questions why they are selling these expensive drugs to the physicians, and presenting sales pitches that leave out essential facts. She also realizes how little she really knows about the products she is pushing. When a romance develops, she is convinced that she must get out of the business. She sets a 6 month countdown, and decides to tell the truth to the doctors in her territory. While this is rather humorous, for the sake of the film, her sales actually increase!
This film is both entertaining, and disturbing at the same time. While the pharmaceutical industry does do a lot of research, and brings drugs to market, it is clear that they are far more motivated by profit, than helping mankind. After all, when they have invested so much money in a drug, they aren’t going to shelve it when the bad results start appearing if they can make billions before anyone else figures this out (eg: Vioxx causing heart attacks). The DVD adds a documentary that delves into these issues a little more.
While Side Effects is entertaining, the overall theme is enraging. What holds this film back from a higher grade is that the low budget nature of the film comes through at several points, with scenes that don’t quite make sense, or strange camera movements that made me feel like I was watching a senior film thesis, and not a Hollywood film. Still, the message is worth wading through this, and I was both entertained and informed- always a good combination, especially when it’s natural and I don’t feel like I’m being preached to.
Overall Grade: B+