July 7, 2009

Movie Review: My Sister's Keeper

mysisterskeeper1_largeManipulative? Check. Melodramatic? Check. Emotionally suspect? Check. Characters you want to comfort? Check. Characters you want to strangle? Check. Surprisingly effective? Check and check.

My Sister's Keeper is one of those movies that should probably not have been on the big screen. The movie feels like something that should be on The Hallmark network or some other similar station. It is that sort of emotionally manipulative, tear jerker that under most circumstances should not be allowed on the big screen. So, the question is why was this one allowed to pass? It is a question I do not have an answer to. Although it may be humorous to note that had it appeared on a cable network there is a good chance (almost 100%) that I would have passed on it, so, in a way, it is probably a good thing that it appeared on the big screen.

mysisterskeeperpic12I was initially attracted to the movie by the genetically engineered child part of the story. It brought to mind films like The Island and Clonus: The Parts Horror. It is an interesting topic, and one that is touched upon here, if not completely examined. Think about what it would be like if you could create a backup person from whom you could harvest needed parts, organs, blood, etc. It is a really creepy idea. Is this backup a real person? Do they have the same rights as natural born citizens? If you could genetically engineer a child, would the concept of a "mistake" pregnancy become a thing of the past? Would a market develop for designer children? Perhaps even laws determining certain traits. This brings up thoughts of the movie Gattaca.

These are the sorts of things that went through my mind as I watched My Sister's Keeper. I am fascinated by the increasingly subtle ways in which traditional "chick flicks" and traditionally male-centric genres are being brought together. Just look at The Lake House with its science fiction conceit, or the upcoming The Time Traveler's Wife with its time travel concept, add My Sister's Keeper to the mix and it becomes an interesting trend.

Now, as for this film. It is one that definitely puts a strain on the water works, no matter how strong your willpower is. This story gets under your skin and makes you care regardless of your convictions, it is terribly manipulative in that respect.

mysisterskeeperpic4The center of the story is Kate Fitzgerald (Sofia Vassilieva). As a young child she developed a rare form of Leukemia. It, essentially, signed her death warrant. It is a disease that cannot be cured, cannot be beaten, and the young girl is destined to die. Her mother, Sara (Cameron Diaz) refuses to give up and fights incessantly to save her daughter. Sara and her husband, Brian (Jason Patric), decide to follow an ethically questionable path whereby they genetically engineer another child to be a match to Kate, who, they could use for needed transfusions and other medical procedures. That new child becomes Anna (Abigail Breslin) and the story picks up steam as Anna decides she is tired of being used for parts and wants a say in how her body is used.

The movie brings us in at this pivotal moment in the life cycle of this family. Kate is getting sicker, Anna no longer wishes to be used for her parts, Sara is becoming increasingly cut off from reality as she is blinded by the thought of saving her daughter, meanwhile Brian and forgotten son Jesse attempt to process the changes that are swirling around them.

mysisterskeeperpic2This is a family in an active state of disarray. The Fitzgerald's are falling apart, eaten away from the inside just like Kate and her cancer. This movie gives us a ringside seat to a family's implosion. At first it is easy to site there and watch as they get mad at each and come together again in waves. You even find yourself siding with Anna as she takes on her family, while still being an important part of it. However, before very long, you begin to feel as if you are part of the family. It then becomes difficult, perhaps even impossible to divorce yourself from the deep feelings and emotions that bubble up to the surface.

The film was directed and co-written by Nick Cassavetes who does a fine job of keeping the story moving, never giving you a moment to catch your breathe, easily dragging you through the full range of emotions generated by the family. Cassavetes collaborated with Jeremy Leven to adapt Jodi Picoult's novel, and does a fine job of telling the story, although I would have liked a little more on the genetically engineered child/said child sues family for medical emancipation front. Fortunately, there is enough to tickle the mind with implications while focusing on the strong emotional quotient inherent to the subject.

Bottomline. Is it a great film? No, not by a long shot. However, it is the rare film whose success is based on its ability to manipulate the audience that succeeds and actually has a sense of realism, and that may be a reason to celebrate it just a little.



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