This Sister is a Keeper
As is so often the case I've not read the Jodi Picoult book which "My Sister's Keeper" has been adapted from and so couldn't tell you how faithful the adaptation by Nick Cassavetes has been or how many important moments have been ignored in order to squeeze a story into an appropriate running time. What I can say is that "My Sister's Keeper" is emotional with scene after scene of heavy impact and as such you are likely to be either reaching for the tissues or spitting venom at what could possibly come across as heavy handedness. For me I don't mind admitting that "My Sister's Keeper" had me reaching for the tissues because I could ignore the heavy handedness and revel in a wonderful, clever, emotional and touching storyline.
Anna Fitzgerald (Abigail Breslin - Nim's Island) was born for one purpose; she was genetically engineered in a laboratory so that she would be the perfect match to provide organs and blood transfusions for her cancer suffering sister Kate (Sofia Vassilieva). But at 11 years old Anna has seemingly grown tired of the painful operations and the lack of choice so seeks the service of lawyer Campbell Alexander (Alec Baldwin - My Best Friend's Girl) to help her win control of her body from her parents Sara (Cameron Diaz - What Happens in Vegas) and Brian (Jason Patric). Her decision causes unrest in the already unsettled family as they have to watch Kate get worse causing her mother Sara to frantically try and stop Anna from winning the right for medical emancipation.
There are two sides to "My Sister's Keeper" the first of which is the storyline surrounding 11 year old Anna who was genetically engineered for one reason and that was to provide blood, bone marrow and organs for her older sister Kate who has Leukaemia. We watch as she has apparently grown tired of the countless operations and so seeks legal help so that she can stop her parents from forcing her to have these painful and often risky operations. As such we watch the impact her decision has on the family, in particular her mother who has given up so much to try and Keep Kate alive. Coupled with this is the storyline surrounding how Kate was diagnosed with Leukaemia, the decision to have another child and the way Leukaemia has affected the house hold.
These two storylines combine to make "My Sister's Keeper" an emotional movie packed full of tense scenes as one moment we watch the impact Anna's decision has on her family, then the next we watch an earlier episode where Kate becomes ill. It would be wrong to say the storylines blend because director Nick Cassavetes goes for an episodic approach so it flits from the perceived present to something in the past making it a little jagged, although not too hard to follow. It's a technique which you will like or hate, because this episodic approach means that each series of scenes has some form of emotional pay off, even those which seem almost insignificant still pack a surprising punch.
As such the constant flow of heavy emotion after heavy emotion can seem rather heavy handed because it means the storyline doesn't really flow. It also leaves you with a feeling that major parts of the book, passages of text which link things together more smoothly have been ignored in favour of getting the most hard hitting, emotional moments into a movie and under the 2 hour mark. And to add to this the whole look of the movie from the sunlit, semi autumnal shots, the constant use of slow motion, the quick montages of clips and a prominent song in almost every segment makes it feel all the more heavy handed in its attempt to tug at your heart strings.
But do you know what, this obvious heavy handedness and episodic approach works, or at least for me. It makes "My Sister's Keeper" a movie which never ever floats about doing nothing, every segment, every single scene has an important role to play and keeps you at a high point of emotion. And look past the way the storyline has been adapted and you have a very powerful storyline, one which may feel contrived but at the same time illustrates how Leukaemia can impact on the whole family dynamic.
What is sort of disappointing, and I say sort of, is that here we have a movie which covers two important elements. The first is the choice to have a genetically modified child; the second is how far does your devotion to saving one child go without impacting on the rest of your family. Whilst it gives you an insight into the second, the first more controversial element is barely touched upon, all but for a few brief scenes. The thing is that whilst this side of the storyline seems almost ignored, the emotional impact of having a child for a sole purpose would have most certainly made it a different, heavier movie than "My Sister's Keeper" turned out to be.
Aside from the storyline it's hard to ignore the solid performances from all the stars especially those of Cameron Diaz and Abigail Breslin. Diaz an actress you may think more of in fun, almost throw away comedies really shines as Sara, a mother so focussed with saving her daughter that she can't see what effect her single minded devotion has on the rest of the family. It's a powerful performance, and Diaz shows that she is more than capable of playing what is for the most the villain of the piece. And then there is Abigail Breslin who constantly shows an amazing talent for such a young actress and so perfectly cast as Anna. There is a believability about Anna, someone who through the way her family works has become mentally and emotional strong at just the age of 11 and Breslin delivers this confidence brilliantly yet also with a touch of vulnerability.
Aside from the strong performances of Cameron Diaz and Abigail Breslin who are the central figures, Jason Patric is just as good as Brian, the father who feels torn between doing what is necessary for his daughter Kate but also for the whole family. And Sofia Vassilieva as Leukaemia suffering Kate puts in an unbelievably strong performance as someone who has to face up to her own destiny.
What this all boils down to is that "My Sister's Keeper" is one of those movies which will split audiences. Director Nick Cassavetes styling, the episodic scenes and sunlit camera shots makes it all feel heavily manufactured but get beyond that and the storyline as well as the performances won't disappoint. It is heavily emotional, it is a purposefully manufactured tear jerker but it is a movie which grips you and doesn't let you go throwing up a surprise or two along the way.