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IN SHORT: Forthcoming complaints aside, this is a very fine film. [Rated PG-13 for Mature Thematic Content, Some Disturbing Images, Sensuality, Language and Brief Teen Drinking. 103 minutes]
Cranky's big complaint: What marketing idiot thought releasing this film amidst summertime sturm und drang was a good idea? Perhaps there really are a significant number of single women who need a chick flick with a drop of redemption in it. All the dating young 'uns, whose ticket buying decisions are male based -- that hasn't changed in years -- will be busy with Transformers and GI Joe and Harry Potter. Art houses will have their fill of other, serious movies which most people won't bother with until DVD copies hit the stores in time for December holidays.
My Sister's Keeper fits none of those categories. It has two fine actresses of two different generations running the gamut of emotions. It has a supporting cast of name brand actors and, had the release date come two or three months from now, we'd expect multiple nominations and praise on end of year lists.
Now follow along and tell me how this good and serious film isn't going to get squashed like a bug:
My Sister's Keeper is the story of the life of Kate Fitzgerald (Sofia Vassilieva). A sickly baby, medical tests reveal a form of leukemia that is inevitably fatal unless there is a donation of perfectly matched genetic material. Parents Sara (Cameron Diaz) and Brian (Jason Patric) are not genetically perfect, since it takes two to tango so to speak, and the pair's decisions are gently guided -- off the record, of course -- by a sympathetic doctors. In plain english:
Mom will do just about anything to save her girl, including breeding a second daughter who would have said matching genetic material -- there's something about in vitro genetic manipulation in the dialog but there can be no question of the outcome. A second daughter is bred specifically to provide replacement parts for the firstborn. That daughter, Anna (Abigail Breslin), spends all of her young life enduring medical procedures to help her elder sister. Somewhere in the single digit range she starts to fight back, physically, against the doctors doing said procedures. By the time Anna is eleven, and Kate at fourteen, both know the latter is dying. As yet another procedure approaches, Anna takes her rebellion to a whole different level.
She takes every penny she has out of her bank account and hires a lawyer "with a 91% success rate" called Campbell Alexander (Alec Baldwin) to sue for the rights to her own body. It's called "medical emancipation" and Mom goes ballistic when she hears that news -- what could an eleven year old possibly know about her rights? Or, with full emotional whomp attached: how dare a child tell a mother how best to be a mother?
That alone would be enough to fill most movies but My Sister's Keeper has only begun to unload it story package. In the midst of treatment, Kate meets a young man called Taylor (Thomas Dekker), himself dying of a different form of leukemia. They talk while their blood gets cleaned. They talk some more. He asks her to a hospital dance . . . .
For those who read before buying, let me step out of the trademark for a second. Half a decade before beginning this career as a reviewer, yours truly suffered a broken neck in a traffic accident. Then a second and a third, surgically, broken neck when the darn vertebrae wouldn't set properly. I was also paralyzed in three different ways but to say more into that would be boasting. My point here is that as unlikely as it would seem that a hospital would stage a dance for potentially terminal patients in and out of its Children's Ward, it is not as far fetched as it sounds. Personally, I think the film overplays the scene a wee bit but, based on the behavior of the doctors and therapists who got me through years and years of hell, just go with it. The scene will pluck at the heartstrings of any femme side of the dating equation.
Needless to say, Kate and Thomas sneak out of the dance and begin to get intimate. Does he ever calls again? Of course not. Men. Go figure. 'nuff said.
Except nothing plays out in this story the way you think it will. While Anna's lawsuit comes pretty darn close to ripping the family unit to shreds, it also leaves us in the court of judge De Salvo (Joan Cusack), herself returning to the bench after an emotional breakdown that followed the death of her own child.
Now you can speculate all you want. We'll leave the story be. The performances, all across the board, are top notch. There is enough in this film to keep the men folk interested and make those so inclined sniffle and or weep. Not to mention one or two surprises in the story which we're not going to mention.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to My Sister's Keeper, he would have paid . . .
The film is way too heavy for a time period when you don't want to think of such things. If it had been released in, say, September, there would be more talk of awards. Given that the Academy has just doubled the number of potential best picture nominations (as of June 24, just before this film's release) perhaps there is still hope.
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