When one finds oneself laughing at non-humorous moments in a film about a teenage girl who is dying of cancer, one comes to question whether or not one has a soul. And by “one,” I mean “me.”
I don’t usually mind the fact that I don’t cry at movies. Plenty of movies have taken me to the threshold of tears (Dancer in the Dark tickled at my tear ducts for at least an hour), but I’ve never experienced full on sobs, or even sniffles, while watching a film. Waitress is the one exception, and I think that my crying at the end of that film had more to do with my knowledge of the story surrounding it (director/star Adrienne Shelley’s brutal murder mere months before the film was released) than with the actual movie.
Despite the many reports that My Sister’s Keeper, based on the Jodi Picoult novel of the same name, would be a “tear-jerker,” I sincerely doubted that it would jerk any tears out of me, and I was right. However, I didn’t expect that it would make me laugh more than a few times. No no, that was just an added bonus.
My Sister’s Keeper, of course, deals with a pair of sisters: the cancer-ridden older sister Kate (Sofia Vassilieva) and younger sister Anna (Abigail Breslin), who was created in a test tube for the sole purpose of providing extra parts like bone marrow and a kidney to Kate. Throw into the mix the dyslexic middle child, Jesse (Evan Ellingson), the sensitive father (Jason Patric), the aunt who seemingly serves no purpose (Heather Wahlquist), and the ball busting mom (Cameron Diaz), and you’re set for some drama. As if there weren’t enough drama with the cancer and dyslexia, Anna decides to hire an epileptic lawyer (Alec Baldwin) – who (hilariously) has a “service dog” named Judge who seemingly lets his owner know when a seizure is approaching – to sue her parents for the rights to her own body.
I’ll admit, the film showed some promise here. An eleven-year-old suing her own parents for medical emancipation is intriguing. Too bad the film abandons that plot for a good hour to instead showcase a million other things. With the help of countless (sometimes pointless, always abrupt, and mostly confusing) flashbacks, we are “treated” to a variety of subplots, including (but not limited to) Kate’s treacly romance with fellow cancer patient Taylor (Thomas Dekker).
The biggest problems this movie has are with characterization, which too frequently relies on stereotyping, and plotting (director Nick Cassavetes should have his flashback license revoked). Smaller problems that I had were that there were way too many montages – a walking through the city montage here, a beach montage there, a few “happy family” montages thrown in for good measure – and abandonment of the most interesting aspect of the story, which was Anna suing her family.
(Spoiler alert!) The ending was a total disappointment. I’ve not read Picoult’s novel, but I have heard that the ending is drastically different. That’s not what I’m talking about, though. I could care less. What truly bothered me was that, towards the end of the film, it was revealed that Anna’s emancipation efforts weren’t even prompted by her own concerns or emotions. Like everything in her life, she was doing it for her sister Kate, who wanted to die instead of having Anna continue to harvest her body parts for her to stay alive. This seemed to negate the anger that Anna had expressed earlier in the film. She didn’t want to be used, to have no choice about whether she should keep her kidney or not, and she was mad about it. But then she was supposedly just saying that because her sister wanted her to? It was unbelievable to me that she wouldn’t have felt these things had it not been for what Kate wanted, and yet that’s what the film was suggesting. In the end, I couldn’t help but feel that Anna was little more than a robot, a puppet and caretaker for her sister, and a living, breathing body part farm. (End of spoilers).
If anything lifted this film from the bottom tier of movies, it would be the cinematography, which at times was breathtaking, and the performances, particularly that of Abigail Breslin, who I continue to think is one of the best child actors out there. Cameron Diaz deserves mention as well, if only because she was playing against her normal type. Sofia Vassilieva isn’t bad, even if her Kate, at times, serves more as a catalyst than a character. Thanks to the wonders of IMDB, I now know that she played Eloise in the TV movies Eloise at the Plaza and Eloise at Christmastime, which I’m glad I learned after the movie rather than before. It would have put a whole new spin on the character. Eloise at the Cancer Ward. Yep, I’m going to hell in a handbasket.