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Overall Rating

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look: 6.25%
Average: 12.5%
Pretty Bad43.75%
Total Crap: 37.5%

2 reviews, 4 user ratings

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My Sister's Keeper
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by Peter Sobczynski

"All Those Bald Children Are Arousing Boredom"
1 stars

“My Sister’s Keeper” is a film that is so jam-packed with melodramatic conventions--dying children, fractured families, courtroom battles, young love, dead children, shocking revelations and tearful reconciliations for starters--that it feels as if there was an explosion at the soap opera warehouse and little bits and pieces from dozens of different stories were suddenly jammed together into one ungainly mutant example of the genre. The result is two straight hours of emotional torture porn that is so brutally assaultive in its determination to jerk tears from viewers that it practically leaps off the screen and into their laps in order to plunge its fingers into their eye sockets and get to them quicker. Let me put it this way--if Eli Roth were to get a gig directing a movie for the Lifetime channel, this is what he probably would have come up with; a squalid piece of overly manipulative trash that has been so shamelessly conceived and clumsily executed that even those with a fondness for such things--the people who transformed the gross and sickening likes of “The Notebook” into a sleeper hit a few years ago--are likely to be put off by the goings-on seen here.

Based on the best-selling novel by Jodi Picoult, the film tells the story of the Fitzgerald family, a seemingly normal and happy clan whose lives are turned upside-down when daughter Kate (Sofia Vassilieva) is diagnosed at a young age with leukemia. When they discover that they are incompatible for the various transplants that will be required over the years in order to keep Kate alive, her parents, Brian and Sara (Jason Patric and Cameron Diaz) make the ethically dubious decision to have another daughter that will, thanks to genetic engineering, serve as a source of spare parts for her older sister almost from the moment that she is born. Over the years, the relentless fight to keep Kate alive against all odds has taken a toll on the family--Sara has become so fanatically single-minded in her devotion to this task that she has let the rest of her life fall apart, older son Jesse (Evan Ellingson) is almost completely ignored despite his own set of problems and needs (apparently feeling a certain sense of kinship, the movie itself largely forgets him as well after introducing him into the mix) and Brian can do nothing but try to hold everything together--and it all comes to a head when that younger daughter, Anna (Abigail Fitzgerald), suddenly decides that she no longer wants to be poked and prodded and retains a lawyer so that she can sue her parents for medical emancipation at the exact moment when Kate is in need of a life-saving kidney transplant. As Sara and Anna thrash things out in court before a judge (Joan Cusack) with her own personal tragedy involving a child, Kate grows sicker and sicker and the family, with the single exception of Sara, gradually begins to accept the inevitable with the help of numerous musical montages.

Of course, a couple of questions will immediately come to mind to any intelligent person watching this film. For starters, why has Anna suddenly decided to refuse to help the sister that she clearly loves and cares for at such a critical time? Also, what exactly goes on within the walls of a home when one family member is in the process of suing another? There is also the greater question of the ethics of bringing one child into the world simply to help keep another one alive, even though you may be putting that child through enormous amounts of pain and stress as a result--what would happen if that child finally decided that enough was enough and that she wanted to have some say in the matter as well? These are all intriguing questions and a smart movie would have been willing to deal with them in a thoughtful manner. However, in the case of “My Sister’s Keeper,” it quickly becomes evident that the film is not interested in examining those questions at all. In the case of the more plot-related concerns, they pretty much have to be ignored because the story is constructed in such a way that if they were dealt with in any serious manner, the big, shocking secret twist (one that practically anyone should be able to figure out) would be revealed way too early. The problem with this is that by avoiding those issues, we are stuck with a young heroine who, thanks to the torturous manipulations of the plot, is made to seem colossally hateful and unpleasant for virtually the entire running time. As for the broader ethical questions that actually have something to do with real-world concerns, director Nick Cassavetes (who, now that I think of it, was the guy who made the aforementioned “The Notebook”) does pretty much the same thing that he did when he made “John Q,” another drama that had sticky questions about contemporary medical concerns at its center--he ignores them completely in order to concentrate on the kind of mawkish melodrama overload that is generally only seen in the most shameless of bad movies.

I wouldn’t have even minded the film’s determination to ignore the questions in favor of soap opera theatrics so much if it had at least done something with them but “My Sister’s Keeper” is just flat-out incompetent on virtually every level. The story is told in the most convoluted manner possible--instead of making it into something relatively straightforward, the screenplay from Cassavetes and co-writer Jeremy Leven (who, come to think of it, also wrote the adaptation to “The Notebook) is an overly complicated mess of flashbacks, flash-forwards and narration from at least five different characters designed to replicate the structure of the original novel. Alas, while that kind of storytelling is relatively easy to pull off within the context of a novel, figuring out how to accomplish the same thing in cinematic terms is another thing entirely and the film never does--all it does is call attention to itself while taking us out of the story. Besides, does a story like this really require more narrators than “Rashomon”? (At one point, you find yourself waiting for the dog belonging to one of the characters to suddenly get his own narration as well.) And yet, despite all of that, Cassavetes is apparently worried that the basic nature of the story won’t be enough to move us and goes to relentless lengths to prod us into crying by any means necessary--if you ever wanted to get your fill of endless montages set to the sounds of wispy-voiced covers of such subtly selected tunes as “Heaven” and “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” or endless close-ups of a dying girl smiling bravely through her tears, this is the movie for you. (To give him some credit, however, he has avoided the completely unforgivable ending found in the original novel for something that isn’t very good, by any means, but which is a little easier to swallow.) And while we are one the subject of people going way overboard in an effort to make an impression, let us turn to Cameron Diaz’s performances. I can understand why she would want to take this role--it seems tailor made for award nominations in theory--but her work here is so shrill and overbearing (even beyond the demands of the character) that it just becomes a little embarrassing after a while, especially since she has previously shown herself to have some decent dramatic chops in the likes of “Gangs of New York” and “Vanilla Sky.”

Although “My Sister’s Keeper” is a film that is so awful and borderline offensive that it is pretty much the “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” of tearjerkers, it does have one good thing in its favor and that is the performance from Alec Baldwin as the attorney engaged by Anna to pursue her case. At this point in his career, Baldwin has become one of those people like Christopher Walken whose very presence, no matter how brief, cannot help but bring a little life and juice to the proceedings. Of course, a lot of that has to do with the fact that you get the sense that Baldwin realized just how stupid and sappy the whole thing is and decided to subvert it from within by giving the very same performance that he does to such brilliant effect every week on “30 Rock.” If you don’t believe me, check out his line reading when he is admonished in court by the judge for showboating--that is pure comic gold. In fact, seeing him in this role makes me want to see him in a series of movies where he plays a lawyer hired by trusting children to represent them in court cases that never quite manage to get settled on screen. “Lionel Hutz--Attorney-At-Law: The Movie” with Alec Baldwin--now that is something promising enough to almost, but not quite, make up for the likes of “My Sister’s Keeper.”

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originally posted: 06/26/09 14:06:26
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User Comments

10/15/11 the dork knight Well, it's not as bad as the book. 3 stars
7/24/09 Toni Manipulative but sweet nonetheless 3 stars
7/08/09 Luisa total tearjerker, but great actors! 4 stars
7/04/09 al real bad 2 stars
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  26-Jun-2009 (PG-13)
  DVD: 17-Nov-2009


  DVD: 17-Nov-2009

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