Director Nick Cassavetes (The Notebook) pursues tears the way horror directors pursue screams. My Sister’s Keeper, which centers on a cancer-stricken child, is no exception. A master of emotional connection, Cassavetes makes us a member of the movie’s Fitzgerald family. From the outset, each person introduces us to their lives with (slightly heavy-handed) voice-overs, letting us know how the childhood cancer of Kate (Sofia Vassilieva) has ravaged their household. We are not looking at this family through a picture-glass window, but as one of them.
Based on the novel by Jodi Picoult, My Sister’s Keeper has a deceptively catchy set-up. The youngest daughter in the family, Anna (Abigail Breslin), who was conceived to donate blood and bone marrow for her sick older sister, tracks down a lawyer (Alec Baldwin) to sue for medical emancipation of her body. What follows, however, isn’t about legal or ethical boundaries, but the limits of love and sacrifice.
To ramp up our emotional response, Cassavetes shoots the family members in close-up, keeping the camera at eye level. Through this intimate style, it’s easy for the audience to lock eyes with the characters and feel their sadness. Even when we see them from afar, it’s usually a point-of-view shot, so that we are entirely encapsulated in this family’s struggle with cancer. They can’t escape this everyday reality, and neither can we.
Cassavetes frequently turns to slow-motion, gauzy, heavily scored scenes of the family sharing “moments” together. When the Fitzgeralds play together during a rare outing at the beach, prompting chemo-ravaged Kate to smile gratefully from her wheelchair, you can’t help but cry. Why should this family have to suffer so much? Why should their happiness be so fleeting? But as these moments are repeated, again and again, the whole film starts to feel like a strung-together home movie. Tears, instead of punctuating key moments of the drama, happen throughout.
All of the actors turn in top-notch performances. Breslin’s Anna has just as much gumption and quiet observation as her character in Little Miss Sunshine. Cameron Diaz, as the “I’ll-do-anything-for-my-child” mother, makes us understand, if not agree with, her hard-line methods. As befits a melodrama, both the lawyer (Baldwin) and judge (Joan Cusack) on the case have personal circumstances that make the situation particularly poignant to them, but each actor reveals these vulnerabilities with subtlety and skill.
For a film about cancer and death, My Sister’s Keeper is most memorable for how it tinges its sad moments with happiness, and happy moments with sadness. When you live on the brink of death, each emotion is linked with the other. Though it pulls our heartstrings the same way a few too many times, the tearful results are unchanged.
Brilliant. My Sister's Keeper is bittersweet, thought-provoking and poignant. The story is about Anna, a 13-year-old girl who is average in every way except for the circumstances of her life. Anna is a genetically engineered baby, designed to be a genetic match for her sister, Kate, who has acute leukaemia. Anna has spent her life giving blood and bone marrow to Kate and is under pressure to give a kidney. Now Anna wants to sue her parents for the right to her body.
Anna, her mother, her father, Jesse her brother, her lawyer and her guardian ad litum Julia (another law person) all tell the story from their own point of view. Through each character we are given their thoughts on the situation, their personalities and sub-stories. Though the main plot is Anna's lawsuit herself, we are given an insight into a family which has been wrecked by cancer and the results of it. Each character is fascinating in their own way, my personal favourite is Jesse, and they seem real. The point of this book is that the world isn't black or white and that is reflected in the characters. There are no good guys or bad guys.
Serious moral and ethical debates are encompassed in this book and Picoult attacks them head on. There are the ones which you would expect in a book where cancer lies at its heart, about the terminally ill, stem cell research, genetically engineer babies, but what makes it far more engaging than someone telling you the pros and cons of each is that you get the choices told from a human viewpoint. None of these topics have a right or wrong answer which is presented here. However, there are more subliminal themes running through, such as one which will provoke an interest in our age group – should it be us or our parents who have the right to decide what's best for us?
But here's a warning, this book is extremely sad, but don't let that put you off. It addresses the harshness of life and the fact life isn't fair. It may seem all doom and gloom but there are some sweet, funny and touching moments. You may think a book about a lawsuit would not be interesting but it's more than that. My Sister's Keeper is about sisterhood, choices and the sacrifices we all have to make in life.
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