It's not slick, it's not easy and it's aimed squarely at your tear ducts.
Yet the punch that My Sister's Keeper packs is an emotional wallop that can't be denied.
Directed by Nick Cassavetes from a script he adapted from Jodi Picoult's novel, My Sister's Keeper could easily have had the disease-of-the-week feel of a TV movie. But Cassavetes isn't afraid to tackle stories in which feelings trump ideas, something most audiences can relate to.
Here, the feelings are the full Kubler-Ross gamut: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. At heart, My Sister's Keeper is about coming to terms with death at a young age, even as the characters battle for life.
Cameron Diaz and Jason Patric play Sara and Brian Fitzgerald, parents of three children. But their middle child, Kate (Sofia Vassilieva), is diagnosed at a young age with a rare form of leukemia. When tests show that none of her immediate family is a match for bone-marrow transplants, the doctor suggests that the technology exists to create a match through in vitro fertilization and genetic manipulation. In essence, Brian and Sara would engineer a child as a live-in donor for their sick child.
That child is younger daughter Anna (Abigail Breslin), who, when she reaches the age of 11, rebels against further medical procedures. Specifically, her parents are planning a kidney transplant to her sister - which would saddle Anna with a single kidney and a lifetime of caution that would exclude sports, cheerleading, even childbearing. It's a lot to ask of a prepubescent girl.
So Anna hires an attorney (Alec Baldwin, looking like the cat that ate the canary) to argue her case in court. She wants to become medically emancipated from her family, so she won't be forced to give up a kidney for her sister.
Yet the lawsuit is not the focus of the story. The film bounces around in time, offering backstory on Kate's illness, telling the tale through interior monologues by each of the characters. We get Kate's illness, from onset to her current 14-year-old state: bald from chemotherapy, relapsing, nearing kidney failure.
The doctors are suggesting hospice treatment but Sara, who has fought this thing for all of Kate's life, won't hear of it. She'll win the lawsuit, force Anna to surrender her kidney and Kate will survive after all.
It's a provocative set-up, yet one in which the central arguments seldom get hashed out.
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