A Twisted 'Sister' That's Anything But A 'Keeper'

Cameron Diaz and Sofia Vassilieva in 'My sister's Keeper' i i

Mommy dearest: Determined to keep her leukemia-stricken daughter (Sofia Vassilieva) alive, Sara (Cameron Diaz) plans to harvest organs from her healthy youngest daughter — conceived for the purpose. Sydney Baldwin/New Line Cinema hide caption

itoggle caption Sydney Baldwin/New Line Cinema
Cameron Diaz and Sofia Vassilieva in 'My sister's Keeper'

Mommy dearest: Determined to keep her leukemia-stricken daughter (Sofia Vassilieva) alive, Sara (Cameron Diaz) plans to harvest organs from her healthy youngest daughter — conceived for the purpose.

Sydney Baldwin/New Line Cinema

My Sisters Keeper

  • Director: Nick Cassavetes
  • Genre: Drama
  • Running Time: 106 minutes

Rated PG-13: Mature thematic content, some disturbing images, sensuality, language and brief teen drinking

With: Cameron Fitzgerald, Abigail Breslin, Alec Baldwin, Jason Patric

Abigail Breslin and Alec Baldwin in 'My sister's Keeper' i i

Momzilla vs. the shark: Conceived as a donor daughter, Anna (Abigail Breslin) thinks again and snags a lawyer (Alec Baldwin) so she can hold on to her kidney. Sydney Baldwin/New Line Cinema hide caption

itoggle caption Sydney Baldwin/New Line Cinema
Abigail Breslin and Alec Baldwin in 'My sister's Keeper'

Momzilla vs. the shark: Conceived as a donor daughter, Anna (Abigail Breslin) thinks again and snags a lawyer (Alec Baldwin) so she can hold on to her kidney.

Sydney Baldwin/New Line Cinema
Abigail Breslin and Jason Patric in 'My sister's Keeper' i i

A love extreme: Jason Patric plays the stoic husband and dad who's intent on holding the family together, whether that makes sense or not. Sydney Baldwin/New Line Cinema hide caption

itoggle caption Sydney Baldwin/New Line Cinema
Abigail Breslin and Jason Patric in 'My sister's Keeper'

A love extreme: Jason Patric plays the stoic husband and dad who's intent on holding the family together, whether that makes sense or not.

Sydney Baldwin/New Line Cinema

Ah, here comes cancer, that tired old premise hauled out by lazy filmmakers to summon easy sympathy and pander to our reflexive need to blame someone for no-fault tragedies.

In life, cancer is terrible and undiscriminating; in Hollywood, often as not, cancer movies are just dysfunctional-family films in thin disguise, with the disease fronting for toxic, wild-eyed Mom, played in ratty old T-shirts and no makeup by _______. (Insert name of near-middle-age actress seeking Oscar nomination.)

My Sister's Keeper is just such an arm-twisting weepie, and a prime specimen, too, adapted from a best-selling airport novel by Jodi Picoult by Jeremy Leven and director Nick Cassavetes (who previously collaborated on the wan The Notebook). Though the putative killer here is leukemia, the real villain is Sara (a capably over-the-top Cameron Diaz), a lawyer so obsessed with saving her stricken teenaged daughter Kate (Sofia Vassilieva) that she has dumped her brilliant career, turned a deaf ear to her troubled eldest son (Evan Ellingson) and — in a twist improbable enough to inspire nervous laughter — bio-engineered a younger daughter, Anna, so as to have genetically similar organs on tap for harvesting.

Enough, you say? Enough, cries 11-year-old donor child Anna (the ubiquitous Abigail Breslin) when one of her kidneys is requisitioned for transplant into Kate's failing body. With the help of a brash attorney (Alec Baldwin, crammed into a horrid tan jacket and enjoying himself as a shyster with a heart of gold), Anna petitions for "medical emancipation" from her unstoppable parent.

Notwithstanding the grinding realism typical of this subgenre — the bald heads, the blotchy skins, the weeping relatives — My Sister's Keeper offers no one you could call a plausible character. Everyone, kids included, is a sane, humane rebuke to the certifiable Sara, against whom the deck has been plentifully stacked with a fire-fighting stoic of a husband (Jason Patric); a kindly judge (the woefully misused Joan Cusack) struggling through a parallel tragedy of her own; and a saintly attending physician (David Thornton) with a gift for tossing the rule book and packing everyone off to the beach to enjoy the moment. For in this vale of plastic tears, the moment, people, is all we have.

The son of a very hard act to follow (art-film icon John Cassavetes), Nick Cassavetes can hardly be faulted for rowing his own boat into more mainstream waters. Yet even by Hollywood standards, My Sister's Keeper is pretty shoddy goods. Photographed in irritatingly hazy focus by the ordinarily sublime Caleb Deschanel, and with a score stuffed full of overbearing strings, the film has no plot as such — only lengthy visits to the hospital and the courtroom, punctuated with visits to Sara from her sister, her husband, her doctor and a social worker to implore her to give it all a rest.

The true culprit is Picoult herself, who lives large off lurid tales of family strife — most all of them, curiously, garnished heavily with medical jargon, legalese and a punitive finger pointed at a mother who, by any definition, has her back against a wall high enough to defeat the most Job-like of temperaments.

So there we have it, ladies, another women's picture with a rotten female at its center, and we have only ourselves to blame for flocking to see this pandering rubbish. Quiz time: Of the following box-office queens, who would you rather be? A virago boss (The Proposal) with no feelings? A rabid uber-consumer (Sex and the City, Confessions of a Shopaholic)? A love addict (He's Just Not That Into You)? A gallant old broad doing the splits (Mamma Mia!)? Or an unhinged mama who can't let her sick daughter go in peace? With choices like these, the time may be ripe for me to dust off my spec screenplay — a little actioner tentatively titled Attack of the Killer Role Model.

Correction June 30, 2009

This review initially misstated the name of a supporting character. The text has been corrected.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.