His Father’s Shame

06/24/2009 4:00 AM |

My Sister’s Keeper
Directed by Nick Cassavetes

Cancer is sad; it’s inherently very, very sad. When a filmmaker presents a slow-motion scene with a bald, pale leukemia patient smiling on the beach with her family while schmaltzy pop attempts to overpower the already loaded images, it’s likely to elicit tears; it’s also fair, however, to be skeptical of the choices made by the filmmakers. With My Sister’s Keeper, Nick Cassavetes — a director who has a much sharper sense of audience manipulation than actual human behavior — takes a more laissez-faire (stress “lazy”) approach to Jodi Picoult’s material than the heavy hand he brought to John Q and The Notebook; the execution is more perfunctory than it is aggressively manipulative.

Kate Fitzgerald (Sofia Vassilieva, who gives the most genuine performance in the cast) was diagnosed with a severe case of cancer at a very young age, which prompted her parents, Sara and Brian (a shrill Cameron Diaz and a very shirtless Jason Patric, respectively), decide to genetically engineer a new child who will serve as a perpetual donor. But Anna (played with overbearing precocity by Abigail Breslin), now 11, decides that she is tired of having pieces plucked from her (Kate now needs a kidney), and wants to have control over her own body; she hires a lawyer (an oddly quirky Alec Baldwin) to gain medical emancipation from her parents. She loves Kate, and her family, but wants to be able to play soccer and drink alcohol when she’s of age.

Sara refuses to acknowledge the inevitability of death, and fights back. In regards to Sara, what could have evolved as a more subdued, stubborn character whose myopia slowly destroys her family, is quickly overblown as a raving lunatic bitch. The moral dilemma at the core of the film, which is sandwiched between the interludes ostensibly sponsored by Kleenex, conveniently unravels with a confession that caps a weepy courtroom scene. My Sister’s Keeper is stuck in a TV-movie aesthetic, opting to tell its tale through obnoxious, blaring music rather than deep character development.

Although My Sister’s Keeper devotes a moderate amount of time to Anna’s difficult decision — with the exception of any incongruous scene with Alec Baldwin’s lame evil twin version of his 30 Rock bigwig, Jack Donaghy – it ultimately follows a trail of tears that places it in the “for Oprah fans only” realm. The screenplay lays out a tricky nonlinear structure, and Cassavetes cannot organize the messy clutter of musical montages and family fits. A majority of the scenes are shapeless, providing maximum attempts to exacerbate the situation and then halt the action, leaving a sustained moment for the audience members to reach in their bags for a tissue — or to check the time on their cell phone.

Opens June 26