My Sister's Keeper
New Line Cinema
Release Date: June 26, 2009
Cast: Cameron Diaz, Abigail Breslin, Sofia Vassilieva, Jason Patric
By Sean Chavel
"My Sister’s Keeper" is a big downer of the movie but it is a useless downer, I think. And it features one character which I believe is despicable which I won’t reveal just yet. The movie deals with parents trying to deal with raising a daughter who has leukemia and doing whatever it takes to keep her alive. This sounds like a story about a family’s strength and resilience. In limited degree, some of that element is in the movie.
The movie is based on the bestselling book by Jodi Picoult and has been directed with attentive care by Nick Cassavetes (“The Notebook”). The book must have certainly wringed tears to become a bestseller, and I’m sure the movie will work effectively for some audiences. Let me introduce you to the family of characters. Kate (Sofia Vassilieva), having been diagnosed with cancer at 2-years old is now a mid-teen dying of leukemia. Anna (Abigail Breslin) is her younger sister who has regularly through the year’s donated organs and blood to her sister. Cameron Diaz, who has played selfish well before in “In Her Shoes,” plays the determined and strong-minded mom. Jason Patric, the chilled and aloof actor from “In the Valley of Elah” this time plays the caring and sympathetic dad.
At 11 years old, Anna decides she no longer wants to be her sister’s recurring donor. She goes to hire a lawyer (Alec Baldwin, nearly every performance recently by him feels like the prime of his career) so that her parents can no longer force doctors to stick needles into her. Patric is an understanding father that understands that his daughter willingness in this matter. Diaz is not so understanding, and contends that her daughter Anna is too young to make decisions that effect the entire family. Diaz will challenge her daughter and her lawyer in court.
Mid-section of the movie explores the pleasures and displeasures of Kate’s afflicted life. Kate is consistently depressed because of her condition, but she is lucky to have a short-lived relationship with a boyfriend also afflicted with leukemia. She gets to go to a dance. She gets interested in art. She gets sick again and is regularly hospitalized. She eventually wants to die willingly.
Intercut on the developing scenes of the court procedures and inevitable court hearing, as presided by the Judge played by Joan Cusack (“Friends with Money”). The Judge recently lost her daughter in an accident and has a torn heart. Diaz, acting as her own attorney, undermines her daughter Kate’s intelligence and explains that she doesn’t know what’s good for the family. These painful court appearances begin to tear the family apart. Patric threatens to divorce Diaz if she doesn’t allow him to take Kate to the beach for a day out. Diaz wails that her daughter is too ill to handle a trip out of the hospital. Angry words are exchanged, between husband and wife, and children and mother.
The pitiful outcome for Kate is inevitable once the movie-screen doctors explain her condition to the audience. Watching “My Sister’s Keeper” all I could think about is how narrow-minded American culture treats death, especially after my heart’s horizons opened during the recent Japanese film “Departures” which is also about letting go. Japanese culture seems to have a transcendent treatment towards letting go of loved ones that seems alien to the characters in “My Sister’s Keeper.”
Diaz is playing a despicable character who chooses to compromise her one daughter’s health to prolong the agony of her other daughter barely hanging on. The movie could have been directed with more neutrality so that way it would have been merely observing behavior. But somehow this movie, with its attitude and sentimental musical cues, seems to perpetually condone Diaz’s behavior by overly empathizing with her. I saw strength and resilience in this movie in select moments, but found none of them with Diaz’s character.