My Sister's Keeper
My Sister’s Keeper, the sixth film from director Nick Cassavetes, tells the tale of a generic family with the world’s best genes and the world’s worst luck. The premise is quite a ways out there: a family finds out that their daughter Kate (Sofia Vassilieva) has leukemia and is to suffer degenerative kidney failure, and nobody in the family is an donor match. So, after consulting with their doctor they decide to go ahead and play God by cooking up another daughter, this time in a test tube, who will play the role of spare parts for his sister.
This is all fine and good until one day Anna (Abigail Breslin) wakes up and decides that she no longer is on board and goes about suing her parents for medical emancipation. Cassavetes deftly navigates this melodramatic terrain and delivers a stunningly good film by bringing the story down to a purely human level. It feels at times as though he is trying to makes the saddest movie ever made, but the characters and dialogue are so real that it’s never anything less than genuine. It also asks the audience to think about tough moral questions; at what point does good intentions stop being enough to justify pig-headed, potentially harmful idealism? Is it okay to create life and then control it to help a sick individual?
The real surprise here is the performance by Cameron Diaz. She devours the role of Sara, a mother, whose crusade to save her daughter is zealous to a disturbing degree. Overpaid as she may be, Diaz proves herself as an actress worthy of praise here. Opposite her is Anna’s hard ass lawyer Campbell Alexander (Alec Baldwin) who pursues the case with vigor and seems all too happy to butt heads with Sara. Unfolding primarily through flashback we move from the happy times pre-cancer, through the early stages of Kate’s treatment, onto her only love affair, and finally up to the heart wrenching days of perpetual pain and suffering. Through it all Sara soldiers on refusing to hear the bad news or see the obvious. She believes that as long as she keeps reminding Anna that she is "helping her sister" then she can ravage her body to her hearts content.
Her pathological behavior eventually becomes so out of whack that the film begins focusing on how her family has to come together to put an end to Mommie Dearest.
All this builds up to a climatic court scene that is a delicious tabloid experience. Who could say no to watching a family self-destruct in a public court while one of their own lies dying in a nearby hospital? Throw in an epileptic attorney and a barking dog named Judge and you almost have an episode of Jerry Springer on your hands – only better.
Even though all of Cassavetes films so far have had a gloss to them that is the antithesis of his father’s work, he does have that same amazing human touch that made actor-turned-director John Cassavetes one of the best of his generation. The dialogue seeps under your skin and helps paint an uncanny portrait of a family coming apart at the seams. It is worth remembering that this film is serving up as entertainment the opportunity to watch a young girl die in excruciatingly vivid detail. And while that may seem exploitative the components come together to create a piece of art that stands above its harsh subject matter. It is not perfect but it is pretty damn good.
Starring: Cameron Diaz, Jason Patric, Abigail Breslin, Sofia Vassilieva
Director: Nick Cassavetes
Distributor: New Line Cinema
Runtime: 109 minutes