My Sister's Keeper
Details: (M), 109 mins, United States, English
Synopsis: Sara and Brian live an idyllic life with their young son and daughter. But their family is rocked by sudden, heartbreaking news that forces them to make a difficult and unorthodox choice in order to save their baby girl's life. The parents' desperate decision raises both ethical and moral questions and rips away at the foundation of their relationship. Their actions ultimately set off a court case that threatens to tear the family apart, while revealing surprising truths that challenge everyone's perceptions of love and loyalty and give new meaning to the definition of healing.
She ain't heavy.
Director Nick Cassavetes may be the son of John Cassavetes, who essentially invented America’s independent cinema 50 years ago with the release of Shadows, but his recent films suggest a growing familiarity with the most traditional of Hollywood genres. But where he was able to furnish vivid, passionate performances from his leads in the 2004 romance The Notebook, his take on the story of a dieing child and her stress fractured family in My Sister’s Keeper struggles to find both a defining structure and an underlying purpose.
“I was made in a dish to be spare parts,” explains Andromeda “Annie” Fitzgerald (Abigail Breslin), an 11-year-old sister to 15-year-old Kate (Sofia Vassilieva). Annie was conceived with love, but also to help furnish doctors with the tools (stem cells, umbilical blood, and bone marrow) that could aid Kate’s decade long battle with leukemia. The next step is to donate a kidney, a step at which she baulks. With faux maturity she marches into the office of successful ambulance chasing lawyer Campbell Alexander (Alec Baldwin) and retains him to sue her parents for medical emancipation.
My Sister’s Keeper tentatively opens several lines of enquiry, including the responsibility of family and acceptance of mortality, but it always skews back to the ailing child and the relentless mother. Sara Fitzgerald (Cameron Diaz), a former lawyer, views her daughter’s struggle as a battle, and she will take on anyone – including doctors, her husband Brian (Jason Patric, sporting a series of sympathetic frowns) and even her own children.
Diaz can supply the anger, but not the underlying fury, that a Joan Crawford would have once brought to the part. Although her close-ups bravely and rightfully show a former beauty who is being worn down by a life or death struggle, there are too many key scenes where Cassavetes cuts away from Diaz, or her performance is seen at a silent distance from the point of view of another character.
Cassavetes, who adapted Jodi Picoult’s novel with Jeremy Leven, wants to tell the Fitzgerald’s story from within, using multiple perspectives and voiceovers. But the result is fragmented – each change leaves an underdeveloped character (as soon as you hear Baldwin’s brief voiceover you’re transported back to The Royal Tenenbaums); middle son Jesse (Evan Ellingson) is reduced to intermittently wandering around downtown L.A. looking forlorn. Cassavetes doesn’t shy away from the physical realities of Kate’s situation, with copious vomiting and uncontrollable bleeding alongside her physical deterioration, but there’s no emotion equivalent.
The middle act is a diversion into Kate’s chemotherapy romance with fellow cancer sufferer Taylor (Thomas Dekker), whose job it is to supply the fulfilling love that must be brutally cut off when Kate needs it most – it’s a cruel outcome designed with cynical intent. It all makes for a confusing narrative that hides from the original instigation – should Annie give from her own body to help Kate and what’s made her stop? By the time mother is questioning daughter on the witness stand the movie has entered the television court room of David E Kelley (Ally McBeal, Boston Legal). At that point not even the twinkle in Alec Baldwin’s eye can keep My Sister’s Keeper afloat.
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