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  My Sister's Keeper

Starring: Abigail Breslin, Sophia Vassilieva, Cameron Diaz, Jason Patric

Directed by: Nick Cassavetes

Produced by: Scott Goldman, Mark Johnson, Chuck Pacheco

Written by: Nick Cassavetes, Jeremy Leven

Distributor: New Line Cinema, Warner Bros.

 
     Between My Sister’s Keeper and 2004’s The Notebook, Nick Cassavetes has established himself as the go-to guy to make chick-flicks that transcend chick-flickdom. But it’s a shame to talk about either movie in such commercial terms, because they represent so much more than audiences usually get from the genre. Sure, they’re glazed over in the way that Hollywood movies tend to be, but the emotions are real and the stories are compelling.

     In the opening of My Sister’s Keeper, pint-sized protagonist Anna Fitzgerald (Abigail Breslin) narrates in surprisingly pessimistic fashion, frankly stating that most babies are accidents. But she was not, genetically engineered and in vitro-fertilized to provide transplants for her now-teenage, leukemia-ridden sister Kate (Sophia Vassilieva). The illness has taken its toll on the family: once high-powered attorney mom Sara (Cameron Diaz) takes care of Kate round the clock, dad Brian (Jason Patric) has become more distant, and brother Jesse (Evan Ellingson) wanders aimlessly due to lack of attention. Matters complicate even further when Anna—seemingly out of the blue—hires attorney Campbell Alexander (Alec Baldwin) to sue her parents for the rights to her body, insisting she’s tired of all the medical procedures.

     Before My Sister’s Keeper reaches emotional climaxes, co-writer/director Cassavetes provides a first-act primer on how cancer impacts every individual in the afflicted’s family through a rotating voice-over technique. While a bit awkward due to its unconventionality at first, the style really works: we get to know the experiences of every component of the ensemble without any overbearing conversational monologues designed to achieve the same result. Even attorney Campbell chimes in.

     Once everything is set up, the film essentially becomes about the hardships of growing up. While Anna is technically the protagonist, she’s more of a catalyst for the rest of the characters than anything else. (This is not at all a knock on actress Abigail Breslin’s performance, which is excellent, just a comment on the film’s structure.) Kate and Sara are the most prominent. Kate becomes involved with another cancer patient at the hospital, Taylor (Thomas Dekker), and they share a teenage romance that is as sweet and impassioned as anything we saw in Sparks’ The Notebook. I admit, in certain sequences, even this hardened critic had to fight back the urge to squeal with glee like the middle-aged, tissue-bearing women in the audience. In her role, Sophia Vassilieva hits every note right, so much so that it’s hard to believe she doesn’t actually have cancer. Cameron Diaz is equally compelling as the matriarch, reminding viewers that she has the chops to take on tough, emotional roles, not just the eye candy-based ditzes in What Happens in Vegas and Charlie’s Angels.

     Anna’s court case will be the most divisive element of the film for audiences, for two main reasons. First, Alec Baldwin’s Campbell is often used for comic relief, and this is admittedly only effective half of the time. (It usually works when centered in the character’s internal narcissism, not the barking seeing-eye dog he brings to court.) There’s also a bizarre third-act revelation about his character that seems wildly unnecessary. Second, there’s a big twist at the end of My Sister’s Keeper involving Anna’s motivation for litigation that may strike some as false or even offend their sense of morality. I vehemently disagree with this position and feel that the revelation provides the story the emotional sense of closure it needs, but it may nonetheless mean the film is not for everyone. Still, packed with the emotion of everyday and the grand classical storytelling abilities of Hollywood, My Sister’s Keeper is welcome counterprogramming amidst the summer’s usual crop of brainless action pictures.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 6.26.2009

Screened on: 6.18.2009 at the Warner Bros. Studio Lot in Burbank, CA.

 

My Sister's Keeper is rated PG-13 and runs 106 minutes.


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