Thursday 26 August 2021

Movie Review: My Sister's Keeper (2009)

A family drama, My Sister's Keeper explores the exhausting emotional consequences of caring for a severely ill child.

Sara and Brian Fitzgerald (Cameron Diaz and Jason Patric) are raising three children, but 15 year old daughter Kate (Sofia Vassilieva) is their main priority. She has a rare form of leukaemia and has been undergoing treatment most of her life. Sara quit her career as a lawyer and dedicated her life to care for Kate. The Fitzgeralds even conceived younger daughter Anna and engineered her genes primarily to be a donor for her older sister. Meanwhile, son Jesse (Evan Ellingson) is dyslexic but has received little parental attention.

Now 11 years old, Anna (Abigail Breslin) decides she no longer wants to undergo surgeries and donate body parts to her sister. She hires celebrity lawyer Campbell Alexander (Alec Baldwin) and sues her parents for "medical emancipation". Sara is shocked that her younger daughter is rebelling, but Brian, a firefighter, is more understanding. As the court case proceeds with Judge De Salvo (Joan Cusack) presiding, flashbacks reveal Kate's life-long struggles and experiences, including a romance with fellow cancer patient Taylor (Thomas Dekker).

A finely-tuned weepy, My Sister's Keeper hits all the sad notes it aims for. The Jodi Picoult novel is translated to the screen by director Nick Cassavetes and co-writer Jeremy Leven, and jointly they don't miss an opportunity to cram agony into the lives of the Fitzgeralds. The journey through the parental nightmare of a child's horrific illness conveys acute pain, grief, and disappointment, but also grim determination to spare nothing in an effort to defeat a formidable disease.

The narrative core, and the film's strongest moments, are found in the time and space where the limits of caring infringe on irrationality. Sara is so consumed with Kate's survival that heroic efforts become routine, and she envelopes her entire self within the quest to prolong her daughter's life. Anna's action in suing her parents is the last remaining alarm bell that could awaken Sara from the singularly focused dark state she created for herself. With the prickly intervention of Alec Baldwin's slick lawyer, the debate over sacrifice imposed upon others is treated with sharp respect.

Elsewhere My Sister's Keeper settles down to a polished but standard recounting of cancer's ravaging impacts. From the horrors of shock diagnosis to endless rounds of treatment, the very few ups have to compensate for many downs, understandably fraying the bonds between Sara and Brian. When he finally puts his foot down and grants Kate some joy at the expense of Sara's rigid rules, their marriage threatens to rupture.

The flashback romance between Kate and Taylor is an adequate sub-story with its own highs and lows, and does present a moment of unbridled familial joy. The grounded performances by the stellar cast ride with the drama but avoid most histrionics, with Cameron Diaz delivering one of her finest dramatic roles. The two young actresses Sofia Vassilieva and Abigail Breslin forge a heart and soul of provocation and perseverance.

Emotion-packed, sometimes melodramatic, but still compelling, My Sister's Keeper is propelled by the courage to confront, obvious and visible within a mother, more crafty in her offspring.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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