My Sister's Keeper -- Film Review
A film about a child with leukemia understandably has a small theatrical audience. Indeed, Jodi Picoult's novel, on which Jeremy Leven and director Nick Cassavetes' screenplay is based, might seem more at home on television, where illness, doctors and hospitals somehow feel less alarming. But "My Sister's Keeper" does benefit from a sagacious big-screen treatment: It allows for nuances and takes time to focus this story of an illness on all the people it affects.
The movie begins with a bit of misdirection when 11-year-old Anna (Abigail Breslin) sues her parents. It looks like you're headed into a fascinating legal drama dealing with a thorny ethical issue.
Anna has always known she is a "donor child." When her parents, Sara (Cameron Diaz) and Brian (Jason Patric), discover their first daughter, Kate (Sofia Vassilieva), has leukemia, they choose to conceive another child through genetic engineering who would be a perfect genetic match with Kate. Thus, Anna can donate blood or whatever else is necessary to keep her elder sister alive.
The two girls love each other dearly, so Anna never complains. Then, 11 years into this routine, Kate's kidneys are failing and she'll need one of Anna's. Anna finally says no. She hires a big-shot lawyer (Alec Baldwin), whose face adorns billboards and buses all over Los Angeles, and goes to court seeking her "medical emancipation." But her mom, who gave up a law practice to care for her ailing daughter, will make a ferocious opponent.
The movie isn't about a court battle. The film moves back and forth in time to show how decisions were made and how this illness impacts everyone, including older brother Jesse (Evan Ellingson), who at times feels overlooked because of his sisters' relay team in body parts. The movie reflects back on the joys and sorrows of a family and how love can be just as strong whether the answer is yes ... or no.
The film takes time giving you the background on everyone, and that includes the judge (Joan Cusack) who will decide the issue and a fellow cancer patient (Thomas Dekker) who becomes Kate's love interest.
OK, maybe everything is a little too neat, too perfect. If you're going to be in a hospital, you would want David Thornton's Dr. Chance for your doctor. He's compassionate, honest, smart and -- this element veering into science fiction -- always available for consultation.
You would want your mom to be running over everyone else's feelings in fighting for your life. You'd want a dad who continues to do his job -- as a fireman, no less! -- even though the illness marginalizes him within his own family. You'd want a brother and sister this loving, but would that ever happen?
The ugliness of the illness also is not depicted in detail. Even the vomiting is mostly offscreen. And the ending is dragged out unnecessarily. It is the one occasion where you might legitimately complain about manipulation.
Nevertheless, the actors work with a beguiling earnestness. Diaz goes without any discernible makeup and even shaves her head at one point (so her daughter won't feel "ugly" following chemotherapy.) All the work pays off: This family feels like a family and not an ensemble thrown together in the casting process. When they gather around Kate's hospital bed, the whole things seems very real. Thus, the tears.
Opens: Friday, June 26 (Warner Bros.)