Monday, June 29, 2009

Movie Review: My Sister's Keeper

My Sister’s Keeper ***
Directed By:
Nick Cassavetes.
Written By: Jeremy Leven and Nick Cassavetes based on the novel by Jodi Picoult.
Starring: Abigail Breslin (Andromeda 'Anna' Fitzgerald), Cameron Diaz (Sara Fitzgerald), Sofia Vassilieva (Kate Fitzgerald), Jason Patric (Brian Fitzgerald), Evan Ellingson (Jesse Fitzgerald), Alec Baldwin (Campbell Alexander), Joan Cusack (Judge De Salvo), Heather Wahlquist (Aunt Kelly), Thomas Dekker (Taylor Ambrose), Jeffrey Markle (Dr. Wayne), Emily Deschanel (Dr. Farquad).

My Sister’s Keeper is an emotionally manipulative tear jerker of a movie, and yet somehow it works. I am under no delusions that this movie was made for any other reason that to try to illicit tears from its audience, but My Sister’s Keeper works better than most of the films like that, because it feels honest. It earns those tears that it manipulates out of the audience. Yes the film is riddled with clichés, but the performances in the film feel honest and real, so we follow the characters wherever the story leads them.

The film is about Anna (Abigail Breslin), an 11 year old girl who was conceived by her parents to be an exact genetic match for her sister Kate (Sofia Vassilieva), who at two was diagnosed with leukemia. They did not expect her to live past the age of 15, but know she’s 14, and still alive. Yes, her life has been one procedure after another, one round of chemo after another, but she’s still alive. Every time Kate has needed anything, Anna has been there to donate it to her. But now, Kate needs a kidney, and Anna doesn’t want to give it. She goes so far as hiring a lawyer, Campbell Alexander (Alec Baldwin) to sue her parents to the rights to her own body. Her mother Sara (Cameron Diaz) is furious, but her dad Brian (Jason Patric) is more understanding. Her older brother Jesse (Evan Ellingson) is essentially ignored. The Judge (Joan Cusack), who just lost a 12 year old to a car accident, has no idea what to think.

My Sister’s Keeper is a good movie because it concentrates more on its characters than anything else. In the opening scenes of the movie, we feel like the movie is going to present us with cookie cutter, one dimensional characters, but over the course of the movie, we get to know these people, and understand them. They are brought to life by vivid, realistic performances by the entire cast. Abigail Breslin is especially good as the sister who just wants a normal life back, and is willing to do whatever is necessary to get it. It’s not that she does not love her sister – she loves her more than anything else in the world – but she also wants to be a normal kid. We initially think that Sara is just a harpy of a wife and mother, but Diaz brings unsuspected depths to her character, and fleshes her out. She is real. And Sofia Vassileva is quite good as the dying sister. It’s hard to play a role like this, because you run the risk of either being seen as overly whiny, or too much of a martyr, but Vassileva finds the right notes. Alec Baldwin is good in support as always, as is Jason Patric, Evan Ellingson and Thomas Dekker, as another cancer patient who Kate falls for. And I loved Joan Cusack as the Judge, who at one point, when everyone in the family is talking at once, is asked if she wants to remove anyone and replies “No, this is interesting”. Not proper courtroom decorum sure, but entertaining.

The film was directed by Nick Cassavetes, who also directed The Notebook, another tearjerker. He knows just the right strings to pull to get under the audiences skin, yet not turn them off by being too shamefaced about trying to illicit tears. Fans of the novel by Jodi Picoult will be surprised, in my case pleasantly, by some of the changes made in the story. It now ends on a more logical, less out of left field note, that feel appropriate for the story. So while My Sister’s Keeper may not be a great movie, it is a good one. After sitting through Transformer: Revenge of the Fallen earlier that day, this movie, with its concentration of character, story and acting, was a breath of fresh air.

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