Manipulative? Check. Melodramatic? Check. Emotionally suspect? Check. Characters you want to comfort? Check. Characters you want to strangle? Check. Surprisingly effective? Check and check.
My Sister's Keeper is one of those movies that should probably not have been on the big screen. The movie feels like something that should be on Hallmark Channel or some similar network. It is that sort of emotionally manipulative, tear jerker that under most circumstances should not be allowed on the big screen. So, the question is why was this one allowed to make it to theaters? It is a question I do not have an answer to, although it may be humorous to note that had it appeared on a cable network there is a good chance (almost 100%) that I would have passed on it. So, in a way, it is probably a good thing that it appeared on the big screen.
I was initially attracted to the movie by the genetically engineered child part of the story. It brought to mind films like The Island and Parts: The Clonus Horror. It is an interesting topic, and one that is touched upon here even if it is not completely examined. Think about what it would be like if you could create a backup person from whom you could harvest needed parts – organs, blood, etc. It is a really creepy idea. Is this backup a real person? Do they have the same rights as natural born citizens? If you could genetically engineer a child, would the concept of a "mistake" pregnancy become a thing of the past? Would a market develop for designer children? Perhaps even laws determining certain traits (it all brings up thoughts of the movie Gattaca).
These are the sorts of things that went through my mind as I watched My Sister's Keeper. I am fascinated by the increasingly subtle ways in which traditional "chick flicks" and traditionally male-centric genres are being brought together. Just look at The Lake House with its science fiction conceit, or the upcoming The Time Traveler's Wife with its time travel concept. Add My Sister's Keeper to the mix and it becomes an interesting trend.
Now, just looking at this film. It is one that definitely puts creates waterworks, no matter how strong your willpower is. This story gets under your skin and makes you care regardless of your convictions, it is terribly manipulative in that respect.
The center of the story is Kate Fitzgerald (Sofia Vassilieva). As a young child, Kate develops a rare form of Leukemia, it essentially signs her death warrant. Her disease cannot be cured, cannot be beaten, and the young girl becomes destined to die from it. Her mother, Sara (Cameron Diaz) refuses to give up and fights incessantly to save her daughter. Sara and her husband, Brian (Jason Patric), decide to follow an ethically questionable path whereby they genetically engineer another child to be a match to Kate, a child whom they could use for needed transfusions and other medical procedures. That new child becomes Anna (Abigail Breslin) and the story picks up steam as Anna decides she is tired of being used for parts and wants a say in how her body is used.
The movie brings us in at this pivotal moment in the life cycle of this family. Kate is getting sicker, Anna no longer wishes to be used for her parts, Sara is becoming increasingly cut off from reality as she is blinded by the thought of saving her daughter, and meanwhile Brian and forgotten son Jesse attempt to process the changes that are swirling around them.
This is a family in an active state of disarray. The Fitzgeralds are falling apart, eaten away from the inside just like Kate and her cancer. The movie gives us a ringside seat to a family's implosion. At first it is easy to sit there and watch as they get mad at each other and come together again more than once. You even find yourself siding with Anna as she takes on her family while still being an important part of it. Before very long, you begin to feel as if you are part of the family. It then becomes difficult — perhaps even impossible – to divorce yourself from the deep feelings and emotions that bubble up to the surface.
The film is directed and co-written by Nick Cassavetes who does a fine job of keeping the story moving, never giving you a moment to catch your breathe and easily dragging you through the full range of emotions generated by the family. Cassavetes collaborated with Jeremy Leven to adapt Jodi Picoult's novel, and does a fine job of telling the story, although I would have liked a little more on the genetically engineered child and said child suing her family for medical emancipation fronts. Fortunately, there is enough to tickle the mind with while still focusing on the strong emotional aspect inherent to the subject.
Bottomline. Is it a great film? No, not by a long shot. However, it is the rare film whose success is based on its ability to manipulate the audience and which both succeeds and actually has a sense of realism. That may be a reason to celebrate it just a little.