Monday, July 27, 2009

My Sister's Keeper

Cast: Cameron Diaz, Abigail Breslin, Alec Baldwin, Sofia Vassilieva; Director: Nick Cassavetes; Producers: Mark Johnson, Chuck Pacheco, Scott L. Goldman; Screenwriters: Jeremy Leven, Nick Cassavetes; Music: Aaron Zigman; Editor: Jim Flynn, Alan Heim; Genre: Drama; Cinematography: Caleb Deschanel; Distributor: New Line Cinema; Location: USA; Running Time: 110 mins;

Technical Assessment: 4
Moral Assessment: 4
CINEMA Rating: For viewers 14 and above

In this film version of Jodi Picault’s best seller, My Sister’s Keeper, Kate, the daughter of lawyer Sara (Cameron Diaz) and Brian (Jason Patric) is diagnosed at age 5 with leukemia. To save her life, the couple agrees to do the untried: engineer a baby by in vitro fertilization to provide a perfect genetic match to the sick child. The baby, Anna, since birth becomes the donor for Kate’s needs, for blood, bone marrow, and stem cells. Alive at 16 instead of dying at age 5 as medically predicted, Kate (Sofia Vassilieva) now needs a kidney to stay alive, but 11-year old Anna (Abigail Breslin) no longer wants to be her sister’s supplier of spare parts. She instead hires controversial lawyer Alexander Campbell (Alec Baldwin) and sues her parents to gain “medical emancipation”. In denial about Kate’s imminent death, Sara represents herself in court against her 11-year old daughter’s lawyer. The trial takes a surprise turn when the couple’s son Jesse (Evan Ellingson) bursts into a stunning revelation in court.

Besides a solid story and unsurpassably good casting as foundation for the film, director Nick Cassavetes’ My Sister’s Keeper has that subtle ability to emotionally affect its audience while continuing to engage their intelligence despite the occasional plot contrivances. The character-development is superb, with lead Diaz delivering the best performance yet of her acting career, surprising viewers with her dramatic flair and marking her graduation from romantic comedy roles she had also excelled at. Breslin is spunky, determined yet lovable and loving, and the bald Vassilieva makes a winning cancer patient who is cheerful and wise despite her losing battle with cancer. Every character in the sad story has issues of their own and the plot’s twists and turns reveal these in the rest: judge (Joan Cusack), Kate’s fellow patient and boyfriend Taylor (Thomas Dekker), lawyer Campbell, firefighting husband and father Patric, withdrawn son Ellingson. Flashbacks could demand viewers’ effort to situate but in time, through great dialogue, cinematography that captures both pathos and joys faithfully, and great makeup (Kate’s especially), all is understood.

Moral issues are definitely found here—from the start, in fact, when conceptualization is viewed through the eyes of the genetically engineered11-year old Anna. Right away one questions if it’s right for parents to produce another child to extend the life of another. No doubt it’s a happy, loving family, better than most families portrayed in American movies and other media, but how will they confront the consequences of misguided devotion? From birth, the engineered child’s body is practically mined to save her sister: she is coaxed, cajoled, bribed with ice cream as she cries and kicks her way into the operating room, knowing only the pain or inconvenience of medical procedures she is too young to willfully desire. She would be told that by doing so she is saving her sister’s life, but as she sells her gold necklace and raises $700 to offer as attorney’s fees because she “doesn’t want to be cut up anymore,” the viewer starts to root for her. Indeed, why can’t her mother see that the kidney transplant will only leave her with two sick children to look after, if it succeeds at all. If it fails, the dying one dies just the same, leaving the donor unable to enjoy a normal life; and if her remaining kidney fails, no one else in the family can donate. Will they then make another test-tube donor baby, or will this donor-child be virtually disposed of since she has served her purpose?

But how could a mother who did not carry a baby in her womb possibly see that? Test-tube baby Anna is not conceived in love, and if there was love at all, it was love for another child. Even the father Brian admits they “went against nature” in the conceptualization of Anna. The main issue here is a mother’s letting go, and the main message is, parents do not own their children. The viewer may think, this lawsuit wouldn’t have happened had they not created Anna in the first place. But in this development, if the viewer hears with the ears of faith, God speaks. God may have allowed Anna’s unorthodox birth, but in His time He tells the world what her parents missed in their blind devotion: that they are not God, but children are gifts from God. Anna, despite the cold and heartless circumstances surrounding her birth, emerges as the biggest gift in this story, eventually helping everyone else to see the light.

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