“My Sister’s Keeper”
New Line Cinema
At Quality 16 and Showcase

2.5 out of 5 stars

The film adaptation of “My Sister’s Keeper,” just like the Jodi Picoult novel, wants to make you cry. That is its only goal, and it’s certainly one that it achieves. Only an audience member with a heart of stone could remain impassive throughout the entire film. But just because it can jerk tears doesn’t necessarily mean the movie is brilliant, just that it’s effective.

Anna Fitzgerald (Abigail Breslin, “Little Miss Sunshine”) was conceived in a test tube by her parents for one purpose only: to provide organs, blood cells and other various body parts to her very sick sister Kate (Sofia Vassilieva, TV’s “Medium”). Anna’s mother, Sara (Cameron Diaz, “What Happens in Vegas”) has never thought twice about putting Anna through these trying medical ordeals, though her father (Jason Patric, “Sleepers”) has never felt right about it.

A disconcerted Anna decides enough is enough. When forced to donate her kidney, she hires lawyer Campbell Alexander (Alec Baldwin, TV’s “30 Rock”) to help her achieve medical emancipation from her parents, even though a win would ensure her sister’s death.

This presents a very interesting dilemma, but so little of the trial is shown that it seems more like a subplot than the main show. There’s not even sufficient time to ponder the issue of morality vs. family.

The lack of courtroom scenes is the film’s major misstep. Besides being the most intriguing plot point, spending more time in the courtroom would have given more screen time to Joan Cusack (“School of Rock”) as the judge who has also suffered a recent family tragedy. The scene between Cusack and Breslin within the judge’s chambers feels real — no forced emotion or overacting. It’s during this brief moment that the movie’s potential shines through.

But instead, too much time is focused on Kate’s illness, which (though it seems cruel to say) is far less interesting. Not surprisingly, the film is directed by Nick Cassavetes (“The Notebook”), no stranger to using cheap emotional clichés to get a reaction from his audience. This includes the requisite slow-motion beach scene in which sad music swells as birds fly. Again, the film’s only goal is to make you cry, even if that means sacrificing originality. Perhaps the tears are owed more to boredom than actual sadness.

The film’s saving grace is the splendid acting of Breslin and Diaz. Diaz has to walk a very thin line, as she could be interpreted as the film’s villain if not for the under-the-surface pain she conveys so well. Deep down, she’s simply a mother who is willing to do anything to save her older daughter, even if it means alienating the rest of her family. Breslin has that curious quality of appearing far older than she actually is. She never comes off as cutesy, a common disorder infecting too many child stars.

Proving that no risks will be taken, the film sidesteps the unbelievably depressing ending of the novel, and instead provides a sort of happy (if that’s the right word) resolution. Too bad, because a slightly daring move might have helped propel the film out of total mediocrity. But no such luck here — this is nothing more than a Lifetime movie made for the big screen.

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