My Sister’s Keeper

MySistersKeeper770
Cameron Diaz reacts poorly to Abigail Breslin's boundaryPhoto: New Line Cinema

The story soft-pedals but makes its point, and then tells the tale it chooses to tell with grace and delicacy.

Here’s a term for you: “savior sibling” ~ a baby genetically matched to provide life-saving cord blood that could be transplanted into a sick brother or sister.

My Sister’s Keeper ~ based on the novel of the same name by best-selling author Jodi Picoult ~ tells the story of one such individual (ostensibly, but we’ll get to that): Anna, conceived in vitro as the last best hope of Leukemia-stricken Kate and the possibility of salvation for a mother who will not give up.

This story, inspired by an actual situation, places squarely before us a matter of great import, right up there in the same conversation as abortion; we need to decide, in our hearts, where we stand on this one, and Picoult’s story serves us well by moving a cerebral conversation straight into the heart center.

We’re faced with the proverbial slippery slope, and precedent exists in the case of  little Zain Hashmi (note that in this case British authorities put a halt to the proceedings, so they came here to the US…)

The concept of a “designer baby” (a la Gattica) is problematic enough (when certain so-called desirable ~ i.e, parentally desired ~ characteristics such as athleticism and eye color are manipulated), but the concept of the “savior sibling” is little short of chilling: “preimplantation genetic diagnosis,” gotta love that one.

Here’s the conversation that interests me and that I thought the film would explore: while I can attempt to appreciate that the inspirational mother feels this story is the “worst case scenario” (which I’m afraid I sincerely doubt), at what determinable points do we slip from cord blood… to drawn blood… to organ donation… to The Island? (If you haven’t seen it, you may consider yourself officially on notice…)

I must confess it’s my opinion that while My Sister’s Keeper opens very boldly indeed, it balks just short of a frank discussion of the issue, sidestepping instead into a poignant, Beaches-ian depiction of the excruciating march toward inevitable heartbreaking  loss.

Wow, sorry for that secondary clause.  But that’s what it is, and it is beautifully crafted on all levels.  I was surrounded by serious (I mean major) sniffling in 360°.

And though it deftly avoids a head-on collision with the physical, emotional, and relational fallout that could result from a savior sibling’s outright refusal to… participate (I honestly can’t think of a better word ~ you’ll understand why after you’ve seen the movie), My Sister’s Keeper doesn’t leave us emptyhanded.

Far from it.  Where the bioethics leave off, truly poignant backstories weave into a well-crafted tapestry: the attorney doesn’t take the case (as one might expect) because it’s a matter of grave public policy, yet his motivation is touching and valid (if a smidge of a stretch, structurally speaking); likewise the reason underpinning “savior sibling” Anna’s action is different than the one we expected, yet her reason is touching and valid (if a smidge of a stretch, structurally speaking).

Wedded as I am to the written word, I was quite impressed with how effectively we actually sense the presence of Picoult’s novel.  So often source material muscles into the space to a film’s detriment (I detest watching a “stage production on film”), but here romance-crafters-extroadinare screenwriters Nick Cassavetes and Jeremy Leven actually pull this off, granting us access to the largely interior worlds comprising this story; I haven’t read the book and so cannot compare and contrast content, but for tone at least I would venture to say that fans of the book will be pleased (would that this had happened with Watership Down, but that’s another conversation…).

There were some sequences that seemed drawn out, leaving me itching to return to the courtroom; had I known that this is largely the stricken sister’s story ~ and thus we would not be returning to the courtroom in great detail ~ I would not have been so impatient, antsy to return to the bioethical and legal explorations of which I am so fond.  Remembering these “diversions” now, I can appreciate how delicate and touching they were.

Bea-u-tifully directed by Cassavetes, My Sister’s Keeper is exquisitely performed.  The most obvious presence (at least initially) is that of Abigail Breslin, and it was heartening to see her freed of being Precocious and Inspirational.  And nominations on all channels, please, for Joan Cusack ~ she singlehandedly carried an entire subplot, while given maybe fifty lines of dialogue in which to do so (several of which were spent instructing someone to control their dog).  Bravissimo.  BraVISsimo!

But you’ll really have to hand it to Cameron Diaz ~ we’re in a constant internal battle between “What a monstrous b*tch!” and “What a spectacular mama bear!” ~ and at a pivotal moment you can almost see the knife slip cleanly and decisively into her ribcage.  Sofia Vassilieva (stricken sister Kate) does an admirable job of keeping sentimentality from becoming drippy (I sensed Cassavetes wanted to take it there, but he didn’t go so far as to lose me altogether);  Alec Baldwin, of course, …well, rocked (sorry), and David Thornton was neat to see as Kate’s thoughtful and devoted oncologist (in contrast to his simply splendiferous eff-up Jerry in 100 Mile Rule).

Some elements seemed forced to make a point (a challenge faced by the brother), and I personally would have done it differently (choosing, say, a broken femur vs. a permanent state); sticklers will wonder about hair length at different junctures.  C’est la vie.

Appreciate My Sister’s Keeper as a story of love, loss, and letting go that also serves to put forward a powerful and profound issue for strict scrutiny in another time and place.  You won’t be disappointed.

For more info: My Sister’s Keeper opens June 26th; check Fandangofor listings.


As published on Examiner.com

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