My Sister's Keeper Review
The Notebook is one of this decade's most noteworthy chick flicks, reducing an entire generation of moviegoers to tears as they swooned over an epic romance. Nick Cassavetes has adapted another bestseller with co-writer Jeremy Leven (Alex & Emma, The Notebook, The Legend of Bagger Vance) starring Cameron Diaz, Abigail Breslin, Alec Baldwin and Joan Cusack.
My Sister's Keeper centres on one family's struggle with moral dilemmas, the potential death of a child and courtroom dramas. Breslin, the Oscar-nominated star of indie sensation Little Miss Sunshine, plays Anna Fitzgerald, a girl suing her parents for the right to her own body. Genetically engineered to save her sister's life, she decides enough is enough when she is expected to donate a kidney. Cameron Diaz stars as the emotionally torn mother of three and reminds audiences that she is more than just the Comedy Queen or Rom-Com Princess that she has been labelled of late. It would take a seriously cold-hearted person to not be moved by her performance, or that of Breslin and Sofia Vassilieva as the suffering sisters.
Fans of Jodi Picoult's novel will do well to note that this is by no means a faithful adaptation. Characters have either been under-written (Jesse) or cut completely (Julia) with major plot developments altered, including the shocking climax. Much of the family drama, particularly the court case and Anna's relationship with her parents, has been shortened to keep the film's running time at an acceptable length.
Picoult gave all of her primary characters distinct voices, alternating between family members and Anna's lawyer, Campbell Alexander (Alec Baldwin) for each chapter. In the film's opening each character is introduced via their own monologue sharing their thoughts on the situation. Although this is an interesting element of the novel, it doesn't transfer well to the screen. Fortunately for the audience, Cassavetes drops most of these narrative voices before the film reaches its halfway point, choosing instead to focus on Anna's perspective. It is Breslin who draws the viewer in and keeps them hooked until the closing credits.
Cassavetes opted for a sappy soundtrack rather than let the captivating story speak for itself. The film would have been more effective without the distractingly schmaltzy music. He also added heartwarming family scenes via flashbacks and home video clips where present day conflicts between the characters would have been more powerful. More could have been made of the courtroom scenes as well, as it seemed like it was all over a bit too quickly. Joan Cusack's Judge de Salvo is a fascinating character worthy of more screen time, as is Evan Ellingson as Jesse, the somewhat neglected and overlooked brother.
Despite the powerful performances from its female leads, My Sister's Keeper failed to live up to my expectations. The problems with the screenplay lie not just with the differences from the novel but also with the overly-sentimental dialogue (note Anna's closing monologue) and under-developed characters. I saw this film in a virtually packed cinema screening with women sobbing into their tissues all around me and I'll admit that I shed a few (dozen) tears myself. There is no denying the emotional effect of the film, but whether the impact will be as profound or as lasting as that of The Notebook or the source material remains to be seen. One thing I can be sure of is that this film marks Breslin's transition from child star to superstar. Long gone are the days where she played the cute and chirpy daughter (Raising Helen, No Reservations, Definitely, Maybe). Now she is set to give Dakota Fanning and Saoirse Ronan a run for their money as The Next Big Thing.