Combustible Celluloid
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With: Abigail Breslin, Cameron Diaz, Sofia Vassilieva, Jason Patric, Alec Baldwin, Joan Cusack, Heather Wahlquist, Evan Ellingson, Nicole Marie Lenz, Jeffrey Markle, Emily Deschanel, E.G. Daily
Written by: Jeremy Leven, Nick Cassavetes, based on a novel by Jodi Picoult
Directed by: Nick Cassavetes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic content, some disturbing images, sensuality, language and brief teen drinking
Running Time: 109
Date: 06/26/2009

My Sister's Keeper (2009)

1 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Sick and Tired

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

My Sister's Keeper is a perfect example of a disease-of-the-week movie done wrong. It starts with an intriguing premise: Anna Fitzgerald (Abigail Breslin) was created in a test tube as "spare parts" for her older sister, Kate (Sofia Vassilieva), who has leukemia. Anna has provided blood, marrow and other bits and pieces and is now up for a kidney donation. But now Anna is ten and approaches a lawyer to sue her family for rights to her own body. With Alec Baldwin as the snappy, soft-spoken lawyer (complete with a dog), things start to look interesting.

Additionally, director Nick Cassavetes and co-screenwriter Jeremy Leven take special pains to give each family member his or her own introduction with his or her own narration. Sara (Cameron Diaz) is the shrieking mother, fighting with every fiber of her being every second of the day for her daughter's survival. (She even shaves her head at one point, in empathy, but her hair magically grows back by the next scene.) Brian (Jason Patric) is the sturdy firefighter dad, and Jesse (Evan Ellingson) is the troubled teenage older brother. From there, however, the movie launches into a huge flashback detailing Kate and her disease. Actually it details more of the disease than Kate; we never really know who Kate is. She's all sweetness and light, smiles and sunshine, all the time. Even during a little romance with a leather-jacketed fellow patient (Thomas Dekker), she never betrays a hint of anything other than being nice. The movie is far more interested in hospital scenes and vomiting scenes and weeping and details about medical tests.

When we finally, finally return to the lawsuit -- including the snarky Joan Cusack as the judge -- it rushes and fizzles out. And meanwhile, all the other characters have been sidelined. (Troubled Jesse spends his time hanging out in front of restaurants and watching hookers go by; what exactly is he up to? Who knows?) When stuck for ideas, Cassavetes simply throws in musical montages that never exactly fit. It's as if he started out with a more interesting ensemble piece and then got hounded by the producers to churn out another The Notebook (2004) instead. Last year's underrated cancer film Elegy was a far better example of raging against the dying of the light.

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