03 March 2013

Rooney Mara's Hair

When it comes to Rooney Mara's hair in Side Effects...


The problem with these images is that they're merely stills--they are not compelling on their own. One must be in the humid grey cloudscape of Steven Soderbergh's film to see what I mean, the way the hair is coiffed and disheveled, brown and less brown, sharp and soft.

I'm the same as any ignorant bourgeoisie--I know Rooney Mara from only two other films: The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Some would argue that one or both of those Fincher joints are better than Side Effects but some day I might forget the eyebrowless, lurid significance of the earlier films in a way I will not forget Rooney Mara's hair under the influence of the wonder drug Ablixa.

Let's put those locks in motion for just a moment. Four second mark:

The bangs Audreyesque, the nod to Kim Novak's Vertigo spiral

This early clip informs the rest of the film: the curious score, the high-class-but-under-glass feel of the images. The cinematography is thick with what Rooney's character calls the "poisonous fog" around her (an elegant, writerly phrase that becomes very important later on). The backgrounds in Side Effects are Rothko abstractions, as if the protagonists are sleepwalking through the cartoon rainclouds of those charmless commercials for SSRIs.

Without deep focus distraction, the eye tries to unpack that hair--I have not seen strands so articulated, so attention-demanding, since Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr. Fox, in which the stop-motion fox fur has an artificial luminosity, dancing atop George Clooney's handsome fox face. 

As is often the case, Soderbergh's depressed supporting cast is full of fun faces: there's Scott Shepherd, the star of GATZ, Gale Boetticher from Breaking Bad, Vinessa Shaw, as blonde as GOOP in Two Lovers and subtly recessional as Jude Law's out-of-work wife. Of course there's also Catherine Zeta-Jones as the claw-licking Shere Khan shrink in the pocket of big pharma. It's hard for me to talk about Channing Tatum's fate in this film but the whiteout flashbacks to his white collar criminal in pre-recession splendor would bring a tear to the eye of even the hard-hearted.

The poisonous fog of Side Effects' NYC is just another in a line of Soderbergh's great looking and, more impressively, highly variable films--think of the famous borderland tricolor of Traffic, the inky documentary sequences of Che, the classic noir shadows in The Good German, the sun shot Tampa of Magic Mike...

All of this to say, Soderbergh is getting more creative as he works quickly towards his self-selected exile. I'm rigid with anticipation for his Liberace picture (called Behind the Candelabra, naturally) and refuse to believe he'll really walk away. And Steven doesn't even need to be Soderbergh to be of service to cineplexes--he can direct photography as Peter Andrews, he can edit projects better than The Canyons as Mary Ann Bernard. 

May he be as retired as your average professional boxer.

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