‘My Sister’s Keeper’: An Emotional Look at a Modern Moral Dilemma

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CHICAGO – The advancement of medicine has brought about many things: longer life-expectancy, treatments for serious illnesses such as cancer, artificial conception, and genetic modification. Though there are positive aspects to each of these things, inherent within each are moral dilemmas we will have to face.

“My Sister’s Keeper” casts the spotlight on such a dilemma. Abigail Breslin (of “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Defiantly, Maybe”) plays Anna, a child who was conceived artificially to be a perfect genetic match and donor for her dying sister, Kate (Sofia Vassilieva of “Medium”).

Cameron Diaz and Sofia Vassilieva in My Sister's Keeper
Sara (Cameron Diaz) enjoys a good day on the beach with her daughter, Kate (Sofia Vassilieva), in New Line Cinema’s drama “My Sister’s Keeper”.
Photo credit: Sidney Baldwin

From a very young age Kate has been diagnosed with Leukemia, and both girls suffer through numerous medical procedures to keep her alive.

At the age of 11, Anna decides to file suit against her parents, Sara and Brian (Cameron Diaz of “Something About Mary” and Jason Patric of “Downloading Nancy”), for “medical emancipation” - the right to choose what is done with her own body. Alec Baldwin (of “30 Rock”) wittingly plays her famed-by-billboard-ads attorney.

A true achievement of the writers and filmmakers, “My Sister’s Keeper” is a lot of film for its 109-minute running time. Beautifully done character monologues placed over picturesque family scenes help us know this family deeply and quickly. We witness with complexity the trials of the past and present for each not only medically, but on inherently personal levels.

Cameron Diaz and Abigail Breslin in My Sister's Keeper
Cameron Diaz as Sara and Abigail Breslin as Anna in New Line Cinema’s drama “My Sister’s Keeper”.
Photo credit: New Line Cinema

Sofia Vassilieva’s performance leaves moviegoers searching the news for whether she is genuinely ill: one believes the cast is acting around her. Ever so convincing, it is a credit to both her genuine emoting and those physically transforming Vassilieva that Kate was, in every second, believable.

Though too-rehearsed and a bit flat in final scenes, Abigail Breslin gives a performance insightful beyond her years. Cameron Diaz and Jason Patric succeed at making us feel the exhaustion and hopelessness experienced by parents constantly on the cusp of losing their child, Diaz even going as far as to shave her head for the role.

In a supporting role, Joan Cusack is memorable and ever-so-present in her role as Judge DeSalvo. More than once she sits silent yet says much through the admirable control of her demeanor.

Abigail Breslin, Sofia Vassilieva and Evan Ellingson in My Sister's Keeper
Left to right: Anna (Abigail Breslin), Kate (Sofia Vassilieva) and Jesse (Evan Ellingson) pose inside a photo booth in New Line Cinema’s drama “My Sister’s Keeper”.
Photo credit: New Line Cinema

Once experiencing the films strong, tear-stained scenes throughout the beginning, it is a true disappointment when weaknesses appear in the final half. Kate begins a romance with fellow patient Taylor Ambrose (Thomas Dekker), and his support of her through a chemo-treatment is one of the most touching scenes seen in film for some time.

However, during much of his screen time, Dekker’s resemblance to Sean Patrick Flanery‘s lead in “Powder” (1995) - physically, verbally, and most of all through costume and mannerisms - is slightly distracting.

Based on a novel by Jodi Picoult, the screenwriters (Jeremy Leven and Nick Cassavetes) opted to alter the film ending of “My Sister’s Keeper”. With the filmgoer left longing to see how the original ending would have played, the picture ends feeling trite, predictable, and deflated.

Sofia Vassilieva in My Sister's Keeper
Sofia Vassilieva as Kate in New Line Cinema’s drama “My Sister’s Keeper”.
Photo credit: Ron Batzdorff

The emotional blast we expect at the end sneaks in almost unannounced, so much so that we forget to feel much at all. One expects a story told addressing heavy, gut-wrenching issues to end at least moderately climactic, not as it does: rather blasé.

StarRead more film reviews from critic Elizabeth Oppriecht.

“My Sister’s Keeper” opens the audience up to life’s crashing waves of hope and sadness, yet leaves them dulled.

The film is most certainly moving but misses its mark. A film to be viewed with sides of puffs, Prozac, and popcorn, “My Sister’s Keeper” is worthwhile for the performances alone, but falls short of the attempted impact.

“My Sister’s Keeper” from director Nick Cassavetes, which stars Sofia Vassilieva, Abigail Breslin, Cameron Diaz, Jason Patric, Alec Baldwin and Joan Cusack, opened on June 26, 2009 nationwide. “My Sister’s Keeper” is rated “PG-13” for mature thematic content, some disturbing images, sensuality, language and brief teen drinking.

Elizabeth Oppriecht


© 2009 Elizabeth Oppriecht, HollywoodChicago.com

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