In My Sister's Keeper, young Anna knows that she was genetically engineered and brought into this world in order to serve as a donor for her ailing sister, Kate. Well, My Sister's Keeper was engineered to make people cry — over and over and over again, for two hours. Anna sues her parents for medical emancipation, and by the end of this movie I wanted to file for emotional emancipation.
Anna (played sweetly by Abigail Breslin) was conceived after her parents, Sara (Cameron Diaz) and Brian (Jason Patric), learned that their young daughter Kate (the teenage version played by Sofia Vassilieva) had leukemia and their other child, Jesse (Evan Ellingson), was not a perfect match to be a donor for his sister. Throughout her life Anna has been required to give all sorts of things from her body to help keep Kate alive and now, at the age of 11, Anna finds a lawyer (Alec Baldwin) to sue her parents for medical emancipation. The lawsuit comes at a critical time: Kate's kidneys are failing, and without one of Anna's kidneys, Kate will die — soon. The story unfolds in a series of flashbacks that fill in some blanks about the family's journey up until this point. The flashbacks are interspersed with scenes of the present-day situation as Kate's condition worsens and Sara, a former lawyer, prepares to fight her youngest daughter in court. For more on this terribly sad movie, read more.
This drama is, of course, very moving. It centers around a kid with cancer! Of course there's inherent sadness just within that plot, and essentially, nothing more is really needed to make most people feel. But My Sister's Keeper takes this story and milks it for all its worth, stretching out heart-wrenching scene after heart-wrenching scene. I don't fault the movie for being sad, and I don't even think it's that poorly done, but it could have benefited greatly from some strong editing. Despite trying to cover a lot of ground in a relatively short period of time (we hear perspectives from each character — including quite a bit from Kate herself), the movie drags on languorously in many parts, and I just wanted to yell at the screen that we get it. It's sad. We're crying. There's so much more to this story, please move on!
At first, it takes a little while to warm up to these people — particularly so with Diaz's Sara, not because her character is a tough cookie but because Diaz is so shrill at times it's hard to take her seriously. I wondered if this role was too heavy for her to handle; there's just something insubstantial about the way she portrays Sara. It doesn't ruin the movie, but I still wish they'd cast someone else in that role. Sofia Vassilieva's performance as Kate is well done and requires a delicate touch that Vassilieva capably displays — she's sympathetic as a cancer patient, of course, but she also convincingly plays another side of Kate: a giggly, sometimes insecure teenage girl who wants to date boys and look pretty.
I knew going into this that my emotions would be manipulated, and they really do pull out all the stops — including the use of a heartbreaking song every eight minutes or so (like Greg Laswell's slow, haunting version of "Girls Just Want to Have Fun"). But even with all the music and all the horrors of cancer, by the end of the film, the sweet and complex bonds between these parents and these siblings are what deliver the gut-punch that forces the tears to start flowing.
Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.