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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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