My Sister's Keeper



Laura Clifford 
My Sister's Keeper

Robin Clifford 

When Sara (Cameron Diaz, "What Happens in Vegas") and Brian Fitzgerald (Jason Patric, "Narc," "In the Valley of Elah") discover that their two-year-old daughter Kate (Sofia Vassilieva, TV's "Eloise" movies and "Medium") has leukemia they make the dramatic choice to have another child to help save her life and Anna (Abigail Breslin, "Little Miss Sunshine") will know herself as "My Sister's Keeper."

Laura:
In adapting the Jodi Picoult bestseller, cowriter (with "The Notebook's" Jeremy Leven)/director Nick Cassavetes can officially don the doomed-romance-and-death mantle.  It worked better in "The Notebook" than it does here, however, notably because the romance is too heavily weighted in the mix, pushing the film's main theme into the wings before returning to it too abruptly. Still, this movie had all the trappings of a Lifetime movie-of-the-week and it is better than that largely due to good performances and the hook of a child's lawsuit filed for medical emancipation.

The film begins with Breslin's narration of how she came to be, not an accident as most babies are but a child genetically engineered to aide in the treatment of her sister's cancer.  Then each member of the family is touched upon, with perfect dad Brian observing that inter-familial affiliations were being made that would widen the crack forming beneath the Fitzgerald family. Cassevetes' film is very uneven, but he does do a solid job portraying the difficulty a severe illness brings to an entire family.  No matter how great a person Kate is, her cancer has caused her mother to relinquish her career, put a strain on her parents' marriage, drawn needed attention away from her siblings (strongly illustrated when Jesse (Evan Ellingson, 24's Josh Bauer) arrives at home in the middle of the night afraid of the repercussions only to have his dad not even notice) and turned her sister into a non-voluntary medical donor.  It also causes more remote relatives to issue the most cringe-inducing platitudes, like stories about people wishing cancer cells away and empty encouragements to fight and remain strong.

And yet the film is riddled with bad filmmaking cliches - the collage book made by Kate that looks like a professional coffee table publication, the pairing of a high-powered female attorney with a hunky blue collar fireman, the idyllic upper middle class home, the hospital 'prom' with a too professional band in a too tastefully decorated space, the day at the beach montage, the ever-present aunt (Heather Wahlquist, "The Notebook," "Alpha Dog") with no seeming life of her own, the photo booth montage, the too perfect boyfriend...  Cassavetes also has difficulty shifting gears so transitions between hospital and court room or hospital and family life are bumpy.  The film also presents a unique moral issue and the startling move of Anna serving her parents with a lawsuit only to allow her a more traditionally sentimental back door exit.

Cameron Diaz is surprisingly good here as she plays a rather monstrous mother, one who becomes so consumed with saving one child she not only ignores the others but puts her youngest through constant and painful medical procedures, and yet retains some sympathy. Sofia Vassilieva creates a young girl whose presence, however ill, will be missed and she's careful not to make the girl too saintly (make up is extreme to the point of making the cancer patient appear vampiric, however).  Breslin continues her run as a talented young actress who skirts precociousness and Ellingson does really good work as the boy simmering in the background.  Alec Baldwin (TV's "30 Rock") has a nice arc as Anna's ambulance chasing lawyer Campbell Alexander and Joan Cusack ("War, Inc.," "Confessions of a Shopaholic") is moving as the Judge who's recently lost a daughter herself.  Thomas Dekker (TV's "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" John Connor) does what he can as Kate's love interest but he's been saddled as bald cancer patient equaling Goth hunk.

"My Sister's Keeper" is a blatant 10 hanky weeper masquerading as something deeper, but it does some things well in spite of itself.

C+

Robin:
Robin did not see this film.
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