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Movie review: My Sister’s Keeper (web exclusive)

BY KRISTEN PETERS | JUNE 29, 2009 7:21 AM

*** out of *****

For those hoping to see the film adaptation of Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper, it’s unlikely to be found here. Without even mentioning the drastic change of ending the producers chose, this movie does little to honor the captivatingly emotional book. Names were changed, sexes were changed, entire subplots were evicted from the screen — Someone In Our Family Has Cancer — Cut to Court Scene is a much more applicable title.

My Sister’s Keeper (the movie, not the novel) centers on a Californian family whose oldest daughter (Sofia Vassilieva) was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia — a rare form of leukemia with a low survival rate — at age 2. Kate Fitzgerald’s parents, Sara (Cameron Diaz) and Brian (Jason Patric), opt to have a third daughter through in vitro fertilization. The new designer baby has been formatted as a perfect donor for Kate’s numerous bone-marrow transplants and an upcoming kidney transplant.

That is, until that baby turns into an 11-year-old who decides she no longer wants to be farmed to keep her ailing sister just one step further from death. Anna Fitzgerald (Abigail Breslin) turns to star attorney, Campbell Alexander (Alec Baldwin), in order to sue her parents for control over her own body.

The medical-emancipation lawsuit forces the family to look at itself from alternative viewpoints but, unlike the book, uses these viewpoints to examine the past. The oldest brother, Jesse (Evan Ellingson) has been overlooked as a child, and his parents hadn’t noticed his apparent dyslexia. On more than one occasion, Sara neglects to realize surgery for her eldest daughter also means surgery for her youngest.

Like Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper, the movie uses narration from each character to grasp the universality of Kate’s cancer. Unfortunately, this just leaves the movie gaping wide with no real emotional connection to any character. Picoult never lets Kate speak for herself, which adds to the seeming severity of the other family members’ actions, but director Nick Cassavetes chooses to let Kate narrate most of the movie, a move that aids the film that has such little time to really protray the vastness of effect her cancer has on her family.

Diaz was surprisingly believable with her protrayal of a mother who has chosen her daughter’s sickness as a priority in her life and thus has ruined the relationships she’s formed around her. Finally, we see Diaz in a role that suits her age — she’s no longer playing the young ditzy blond — and the mask of anger and hatred suits her unpredictably well.

Opposingly, Breslin opens the movie weakly. With her exuberant excitement over meeting Campbell Alexander for the first time, Breslin appears more like a rookie actor than a seasoned veteran. By mid-movie, however, Breslin finds her groove and rides it until the end with only slight hiccups along the way, proving to movie-goers that, while she may be hitting her awkward teen stage, Breslin will be an actor for the ages.

But the real showstopper is Vassilieva in her portrayal as dying leukemia patient Kate. She masters her role and leaves the audience in utter shock and awe as she takes on the complete rawness of a character stricken with nothing but the death and the deadly. Vassilieva is the reason to see My Sister’s Keeper, without a doubt. Her acting is indescribable and incredible.

While this movie does little for the novel of the same name, it proves it can still stand — slightly — on its own two feet. With all-around decent acting and a gut-wrenching ending, the film lacks the punch of any serious plot twists but is definitely worth the rent.


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