My Sister's Keeper
by George Sax
Watching My Sister’s Keeper the other night at a preview, I remembered Oscar Wilde’s waspishly contrarian remark that one needed “a heart of stone” not to laugh at the death of Little Nell in Charles Dickens’ novel “The Old Curiosity Shop.” Dickens was a vastly better writer than either the movie’s writers or Jodi Picoult, who was responsible for the tremendously popular and sudsy novel on which it’s based. Dickens earned his sentimental excesses; the movie doesn’t begin to do that.
I didn’t laugh during My Sister’s Keeper but the preview audience did titter two or three times, a little tentatively I thought, as if they weren’t quite sure they should. For me, the movie so relentlessly pounded home its supposedly pathetic, dire, tragic and thought provoking points that I would have been too annoyed to appreciate any lighter touches, had there been any effective ones.
At first, Nick Cassavete’s movie – he directed it and co wrote it with Jeremy Levin – seems to be ostensibly constructed on a moral problem, one that Picoult has said occurred to her when she contemplated the unsettling coincidence of the Nazis’ racial doctrines, twentieth century America’s eugenics movements, and the current potential for genetic engineering feats. But Cassavetes and company have substituted a melodramatic emphasis on a fiercely obsessive maternal fight for the life of one child at the possible serious detriment to another.
Eleven-year-old Anna (Abigail Breslin) begins the movie by telling us (there are several alternating and intermittent narrators) that she was “engineered for a particular reason...a specific combination of genes.” This declaration, it soon transpires, refers to the efforts of her parents Sarah and Brian (Cameron Diaz and Jason Patric) to produce – a not-inappropriate verb – a child whose genetic profile will permit the donation of bone marrow, platelets and other body parts to her older sister Kate (Sofia Vassilieva). Kate has suffered from leukemia from an early age. The doctor who suggests this recourse to her parents hastens to add, “Legally, I can’t even recommend it.” So much for the massive ethical and moral issues raised. My Sister’s Keeper uses the setup for plot propulsion.
By the time we encounter her, Anna has endured two bone marrow and eight other operations, as well as a number of other procedures. Now, one of her kidneys is required for Kate. At which point the girl decides to call a halt and hires a brash, top-notch lawyer (Alec Baldwin) to sue her parents and establish “medical independence.” This eventually brings us and the movie to a courtroom confrontation that’s risibly unrealistic.
It is, however, in keeping with the grotesquely fraudulent tenor of the rest of this movie, which gives us a suburban L.A. family that’s Sunday supplement sunny and wholesome despite all that other stuff. Anna is so preternaturally perceptive, outgoing, and generous-spirited she’d arouse a little skepticism in any other kind of movie. She and Kate enjoy a loving, easy, intimacy-exchanging relationship even in the face of Anna’s rebellion.
This sisterly bond turns out to be the basis for the surprise resolution the picture springs on us, one that’s tearjerkingly tidy, even as it evades it’s own very limited premise. (It’s actually less manipulatively arbitrary than the one Picoult supplied.)
My Sister’s Keeper deals in pulp-fiction philosophy. It’s shameless and bogus.
Watch the trailer for My Sister's Keeper
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Issue Navigation> Issue Index > v8n26 (week of Thursday, June 25, 2009) > Film Reviews > My Sister's Keeper
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