(2009)2.5Jason BuchananSpecial limited time offer: Purchase one ticket for My Sister's Keeper at face value and receive one bulging pocketful of tear-soaked tissues free of charge! (Tissue not included.)
Perhaps My Sister's Keeper should be shown in theaters that offer seats with tissue dispensers built right into the arm rests; it's a true weepie in the most literal sense of the term, and it never misses an opportunity to tug at our tear ducts in telling the tale of a young girl conceived to keep her leukemia-stricken sister alive. The concept of the movie alone may be enough to choke up any loving parent, but recruit the kind of talent that can make the entire thing believable and even the most cynical of viewers are likely to get a little misty-eyed. Occasionally overbearing, yet consistently well played, it's the kind of film that audiences turn to when they need a good cry.
A mere glance into Anna Fitzgerald's (Abigail Breslin) eyes reveals a profound sadness in her being. Anna was conceived for one reason and one reason alone -- to keep her sister, Kate (Sofia Vassilieva), alive. Kate was just a young girl when she was diagnosed with leukemia, and when the prospect of finding a compatible bone marrow donor proved more difficult than either her mother, Sara (Cameron Diaz), or her father, Brian (Jason Patric), had anticipated, they made the controversial decision to let doctors engineer a genetic match for Kate for the explicit purpose of keeping her alive. Now that Anna is old enough to think for herself, however, she hires slick TV lawyer Campbell Alexander (Alec Baldwin) to sue her parents for the right to her own body. But Anna obviously loves her older sister and realizes the repercussions her actions will bring about, so why go to such extremes when the result will be the death of her sister, and the likely destruction of her entire family?
My Sister's Keeper takes a while to find its footing, but still stands on shaky ground once it finally does. In the early scenes, it feels as if screenwriting partners Nick Cassavetes and Jeremy Leven were struggling to translate the story for the screen. Frequent fades to black stifle the narrative by feeling like chapter breaks rather than naturally flowing scenes, time jumping leads to the occasional instance of momentary disorientation, and constant voice-over narration by a variety of characters prevents the story from developing organically. Once these issues are resolved fairly early in the film, however, My Sister's Keeper evolves into not only a highly efficient tearjerker, but also a genuinely absorbing meditation on the unforeseen philosophical quandaries brought about by such a difficult -- and unconventional -- method of treatment.
Alas, the resolution of those initial issues doesn't prevent the latter half of the film from being marred by some other, perhaps even greater, creative missteps. The decision to dictate emotions to the viewer via an achingly maudlin soundtrack is dubious at best, and hopelessly hacky at worst (do we really need that pensive cover of Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" to ensure that we realize the dying adolescent just wants to live a normal life?); the character of Anna and Kate's floundering brother feels woefully underdeveloped; and a pivotal romance that forms the foundation of the second act is hastily jettisoned in a way that makes logical sense but robs us of any emotional resolution. Thankfully the director and his actors were on the same wavelength, and solid performances by a particularly strong cast prevent the film from veering toward unintentional camp. In the end it's Diaz, Breslin, Vassilieva, and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel who elevate My Sister's Keeper above your typical Lifetime Movie of the Week. Any film about a dying child is bound to tug at the heartstrings; perhaps the drama here would have been more effective had the filmmakers put less emphasis on trying to play our pulmonary arteries like weeping violins, and instead allowed the sound of our breaking hearts to make their own triste melodies.
Director Nick Cassavetes collaborates with screenwriter Jeremy Leven (The Notebook) for this drama about a pair of parents who resort to unorthodox methods in order to save their young daughter's life, only to find their decision coming back to haunt them in a manner neither could have ever foreseen. Sara (Cameron Diaz) and Brian (Jason Patric) are coasting through life with their young son and daughter when tragedy threatens to tear the family apart. Suddenly, their baby girl falls ill, and her only hope for survival rests in her parents' ability to find a compatible bone marrow donor. Desperate to save their daughter's life at any cost, Sara and Brian conceive another child in hopes that the baby will be a genetic match. But that decision raises a series of moral and ethical questions that rapidly begin to erode the foundation of the once-happy couple's relationship. Incensed upon learning that she was brought into this world for the singular purpose of prolonging the life of her ailing older sister, the young girl (Abigail Breslin) ultimately decides to sue her parents for the rights to her own body. Alec Baldwin, Sofia Vassilieva, and Joan Cusack co-star.