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Movies Review

My Sister's Keeper

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My Sister's Keeper
Released on Friday, Jun 26 2009

Director:Nick Cassavetes
Screenwriters: Nick Cassavetes, Jeremy Leven
Starring: Cameron Diaz, Abigail Breslin, Sofia Vassileva, Alec Baldwin, Jason Patric, Evan Ellingson
Running time: 109 mins
Certificate: 12A

A young girl dying of leukaemia would be heart-wrenching in any context. That perhaps explains why writer-director Nick Cassavetes (who brought us sentimental romance in The Notebook) doesn't try too hard with this adaptation of the popular novel My Sister's Keeper. What makes it stand apart initially is the idea of another child being designed, engineered and brought into this world to serve as a donor for her ailing sibling. It is a fascinating premise, that unfortunately becomes quickly diluted by soapy subplots featuring Cameron Diaz in motherly meltdown.

Thankfully the casting of Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine herself) helps to mitigate the predictable histrionics of Ms Diaz. She exudes sweetness and light, but shocks everyone with the decision to refuse her sister a kidney. From the moment she was born, 11-year-old Anna has been sliced, diced and divested of bone marrow and finally admits she cannot take (or give) anymore. She even goes as far as to hire a cheap, flashy lawyer (Alec Baldwin playing it like a sensitive car salesman) who agrees to fight her case for 'medical emancipation'. It's a credit to Breslin that she keeps us onside while we watch sister Kate (Sofia Vassileva) growing weaker.

While feeling betrayed, mum Sara also refuses to acknowledge the psychological effect of having put Anna through so much pain. It makes her position all the more tenuous when she decides to represent herself in court. She just happens to be a lawyer so she's afforded the chance to make her argument directly and passionately in front of the judge (Joan Cusack) who, also rather conveniently, is grieving the death of a child. In moments at least Diaz does bring some dignity to the role, but later on, Sara's increasing nuttiness only serves to strengthen Anna's case and unfairly undermine the mother's right to decide her child's fate. A misty-eyed, rather pathetic-looking Jason Patric is literally beaten into submission by his on-screen wife.

Apparently, everyone has their cross to bear and Cassavetes attempts to tell the story through their different points of view - at first anyway. The multiple threads soon unravel because he's forced to use flashback to try to explain the events which have led up to the court case and, in doing so, blurs the focus of the story. It is Anna's mindset which really demands to be dissected and understood, not least because it raises ethical questions that have rarely been dealt with on film, but instead, most of the screen time is devoted to Kate's own trials and tribulations (including a teenaged love affair with a fellow cancer sufferer). There's no doubting the tragedy of Kate's life, it's just that Cassavetes gets carried away by it.

Perhaps to avoid accusations of being overly maudlin, Cassavetes throws in the occasional montage of the family in happier times set against a soft pop soundtrack, but these interludes don't lighten the mood as much as highlight his saddening lack of imagination in telling this important story. It's as if Cassavetes is afraid to delve too deep into the issues he has raised and, towards the end, the reason for that becomes clear. If the finale of Jodi Picoult's novel is too dramatic, then this slightly altered version is just 'too Hollywood'; more concerned with tricking the audience than justifying Anna's grievances. Of course it would be tough not to shed a tear for any child forced to look death in the face, but it's also a crying shame that such a delicate matter ends up being treated with an uncertain heavy hand.


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