Weepy “Keeper”

28 07 2009

My Sisters Keeper movie poster

My Sister’s Keeper 2009

Starring: Abigail Breslin, Cameron Diaz, Alec Baldwin, Jason Patric

Filmmaker Nick Cassavetes’ agenda is clear from the start of his new film, My Sister’s Keeper, based on the novel by Jodi Piccoult. He wants to make sure no one in the audience leaves the theater dry-eyed. The subject matter is heartbreaking enough. 16-year-old Kate has spent her lifetime suffering the effects of a devastating disease, and after years of painful treatments dotted with hopeful remissions, her rare form of leukemia is killing her once again.

It’s impossible not to bring personal experience into the way certain films affect people. There is plenty for a doctor or lawyer to ponder in this film, and either would likely have a unique take on the situation that unfolds onscreen. I saw the film with my youngest sister, Molly. We happen to share another sister, Katie, the middle child in our family, who was diagnosed with leukemia at a year old. Needless to say, there are certain elements of this film that hit especially close to home.

My youngest sister and I were affected very differently by our sister’s illness. Molly was born in the midst of Katie’s struggle with cancer. Unlike My Sister’s Keeper’s Anna , Molly was not conceived as an organ, blood, and tissue donor. She was not a donor match for Katie. She was young enough at the time that she remembers even less than I do about the sick years. And I remember little. Molly mostly remembers the aftermath.

I’m not sure what all of this means about our reactions to My Sister’s Keeper, only that on some level, we both saw elements of our own life stories in the film. I would guess, without asking her, that Molly saw a lot of herself in Jesse, brother to Anna and Kate, whose needs seem overlooked by a family dealing with the more pressing problem of fighting, collectively, for Kate’s life. I didn’t much identify with any character in the film, but found it difficult not to see a lot of Katie’s struggle in a combination of Anna and Kate’s experiences, poked and prodded and hurt by people they were supposed to trust, against their will and without their actual consent. That’s the thing about childhood cancer. How do you ever trust adults, when they are the ones dishing out the painful treatments?

Back to the film. It begins with what first seems like the ultimate betrayal. Anna brings a lawsuit against her parents, suing them for medical emancipation, so that they cannot force her to make the latest necessary donation to her sister; a kidney. She has a good point about no longer wanting to be treated like a crop of organs, but we see the sisters together. We see how exceptionally close they are. Surely Anna would do anything to help save Kate’s life. What are her motives?

It turns out that the answer to that question reveals the films biggest and least believable contrivance. But what else can you expect from the director of the charmingly contrived film The Notebook? The real betrayal will be lost on some people, but the truth actually demonizes Kate needlessly. One little plot manipulation would have fixed the whole thing, and would have been a lot more graceful anyway.

Voice-over narration from different key characters explained the stories background. It should have been explained through dialogue between the players, but the technique was a nod to Picoult’s storytelling style, and fans of the book will not mind it so much. The soundtrack tugs at the heartstrings, but the music is well chosen. The subject matter is sad, after all. You wouldn’t expect Guns N’ Roses.

Book fans probably won’t like the ending, which has been completely changed. But the film actually had the right idea. Normally, so much of what is wonderful about a story is lost in adaptation. This movie ended just as it should have. It wasn’t happy and it wasn’t neat, but that’s life. And there is life after death, even for the people left living.

♦♦½

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