This Sister’s a Weepy Keeper
Cancer is everywhere. By the time you reach middle age, cancer is bound to be part of your life or the life of someone you love. Swine flu gets all the attention with a (relatively speaking) measly 11,000 cases worldwide, but that number pales in comparison to the estimated 12 million people alive in the U.S. who are dealing with some form of cancer.
These statistics beg the question: If cancer is so pervasive, why haven’t there been more mainstream movies that depict people dealing with it?
One explanation is that the topic is ripe for exploitation and shameless manipulation on the part of the filmmakers. (See the Lifetime Channel).
This is what makes “My Sister’s Keeper” such a triumph. It navigates a minefield of emotional explosives intelligently and sensitively, with excellent performances that strike the right balance between heartfelt and hand-wringing.
Those predisposed to see this film ought to know what they are getting into, so bring a box of Kleenex.
But “My Sister’s Keeper” throws some surprises at you. Director and co-writer Nick Cassavetes (“The Notebook”) and fellow writer Jeremy Leven have done a nice job of adapting Jodi Picoult’s successful novel, though fans of the book will recognize several changes.
The cancer victim at the center of the film is Kate (Sofia Vassilieva), who has leukemia. Some genetic engineering allows her parents (Cameron Diaz and Jason Patric) to give birth to younger sister Anna (Abigail Breslin), who grows up donating blood, stem cells, bone marrow, and whatever else is needed to keep her big sister alive. When Kate needs a kidney, 11-year-old Anna decides she’s had enough, takes her life savings of $700 and hires a hotshot attorney (Alec Baldwin) to sue for medical emancipation.
This plotline would seem to imply an intriguing moral dilemma and a fierce courtroom drama, but “My Sister’s Keeper” is really about each family member’s different way of coping with the crisis.
Diaz is a fierce but sensitive mom, Patric’s reticent dad displays a calming inner-strength, and Breslin, as usual, again proves her amazing maturity and believability as an actor. Joan Cusack doesn’t get much screen time as a sympathetic judge, but one of her scenes is sure to break down even the most cynical viewer.
Most moving of all is Vassilieva’s portrayal as a teenager dealing with the ravages of a silent killer. The film humanizes her struggles and allows her to display fits of justified rage and other moments of uncommon lucidity, where she seems to be the only one who’s made peace with the situation. It’s impossible to imagine her scenes with a fellow cancer patient (Thomas Dekker) being more deftly handled.
Yes, there are too many achingly orchestrated montages. But thankfully, many of the songs in the score are fresh and are likely unknown to even the most musically conversant.
The film’s final scenes feature too many twists and linger a little too long, but these are forgivable miscues in a film that takes an extremely delicate topic and treats it, and its audience, with respect.
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic content, some disturbing images, sensuality, language and brief teen drinking.