MY SISTER'S KEEPER Movie Review
Independent Films, Interviews
Director Nick Cassavetes returns with his screenwriting partner from “The Notebook,” Jeremy Leven, for “My Sister’s Keeper.” The film is a shameless tearjerker that will make you cry, but believe me, you will not feel guilty from doing so.
Cassavetes smartly chose to frame “My Sister’s Keeper” as a character-driven study. If he allowed the material’s decidedly melodramatic nature rear its ugly head, then the film would have just been a Lifetime Movie Channel special. Instead, “My Sister’s Keeper” is definitely a keeper and a great counterprogramming for those who wish to escape the “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” crowd.
Based on the beloved novel by Jodi Picoult, the film posits a thought-provoking question: if one of your children is dying and is in need of a rare bone marrow match, would you order a doctor to make you a new child designed to help the sick one?
That’s the predicament that mom Sara Fitzgerald finds herself in. Played with headstrong conviction by Cameron Diaz, Sara, together with her husband Brian (Jason Patric in an understated but memorable performance), decide to conceive another child through genetic engineering in order to save their two-year-old daughter Kate. Anna will be Kate’s savior.
The narrative goes back and forth between past and present and interweaves family recollections by each character. Kate as a teenager is played by the amazing Sofia Vassilieva from the hit show “Medium.” She has a special bond with her sister Anna, played with charming ferocity by Abigail Breslin (“Little Miss Sunshine”). Completing the family is the long-neglected brother Jesse (Evan Ellingson).
“My Sister’s Keeper” also explores the issue of how medical catastrophes can make or break a family. So what happens when Anna, now 11, decides she no longer wants to help her sister? Seeking medical emancipation, she hires her own lawyer, Campbell Alexander (Alec Baldwin). Thus, setting forth a court case that divides the family and could leave Kate’s rapidly failing body in the hands of fate.
From the opening scenes to the closing credits, Breslin anchors the film. The child actress can go from dramatic scene to a lighthearted moment without missing a beat. Her opening narration about being a baby born not from love but by design pulls you right into the movie.
Vassilieva gives heart and compassion to her dying daughter role. Her Kate is not a weakling but a teenager who loves life and is even given a chance to fall in love with fellow patient Taylor (Thomas Dekker). The actress is so motivated she even let the production shave her hair for the chemotherapy scenes.
But the real revelation is Diaz. I’ve long suspected that she has an inner drama queen waiting to come out. The actress has always excelled in the few dramatic roles she’s starred in such as “The Gangs of New York” and “Vanilla Sky.” In “My Sister’s Keeper,” her character quits being a lawyer only to find herself back into the courtroom to defend her family. Watch Diaz effectively mix pathos and anger while questioning her own daughter Anna.
If I make the film sound like it’s a slash-your-wrist depressing drama, please forgive me. There are many funny moments in the movie to counterbalance its heavy emotional scenes. Baldwin’s character and his dog named Judge add some much-needed comic relief, as well as the amusing banters between the Fitzgerald siblings.
I’m strongly recommending “My Sister’s Keeper” not only to the fans of the book, but to moviegoers who want to escape the noisy, tedious sounds of summer blockbusters. The film is a surprisingly sweet offering that will challenge your own perceptions about family love, death and dying, and the true meaning of healing.
And for that, “My Sister’s Keeper” gets 3 family bond kisses
MINOR SPOILER ALERT: The film veers away from the book’s original ending, and I particularly enjoy this decision. If the filmmakers stuck with Picoult’s conclusion, then the movie would end on a melodramatic note and waste the time you invested in the characters.
Year of Production: 2009
Country: United States