The synopsis for My Sister’s Keeper sounds a bit like a tearjerker episode of LA Law with a sci fi twist. It begins when Kate, the two-year-old daughter (Sofia Vassilieva) of Sara and Brian Fitzgerald (Cameron Diaz and Jason Patric), is stricken with leukemia. In an effort to provide for her and prolong her life the couple conceive Anna (Abigail Breslin), a designer baby, specifically to provide genetically matched organs, blood and bone marrow for Kate’s treatment. She is, literally, a donor child; a spare parts warehouse for Kate. All goes well until, at age 11, Anna refuses to have any more medical procedures and seeks medical emancipation from Sara and Brian. Hiring her own lawyer (Alec Baldwin) she sues her parents for the right to decide how her body is used. “Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if Kate had been born healthy,” says Anna.
There’s a lot going on here but the movie isn’t about the court case, or the test tube baby debate or even the medical ethics. Director Nick Cassavetes (son of indie legend John) wisely keeps the focus on the family, uncovering ideas of love, loyalty and how one person’s sickness can touch everyone in the household.
It’s touching, if occasionally calculating stuff. Cassavetes draws out the ending, pumping up the emotion with a heart tugging score, but despite my feelings of being manipulated My Sister’s Keeper works.
I think it works because of the honesty of the performances. Cameron Diaz as the mother in the fight of her life, for her daughter’s life, sometimes dips into shrill territory, but otherwise hands in the best dramatic performance of her career. Jason Patric, a fine, underrated actor, brings strength and warmth to the role of the father. There’s also nice supporting work from Alec Baldwin as Anna’s slyly humorous lawyer and Joan Cusack as the conflicted judge, but the two stand outs here are the young actresses Sofia Vassilieva and Abigail Breslin.
Vassilieva (she’s Patricia Arquette’s daughter on Medium) is heartbreaking as the young girl who will likely not live to see her prom and gives old pro Breslin, (she’s 13 with 15 movies to her credit!), usually the scene stealer, a run for her money.
Based on a bestselling novel of the same name from Jodi Picoult My Sister’s Keeper is the tearjerker of the year. At the screening I was at people were sobbing so loudly it was hard to hear some of the dialogue in the last twenty minutes or so. Trust me; bring a towel to wrap around your neck so you don’t have to sit in a puddle of your own tears.