New Line // 2009 // 109 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // November 30th, 2009
What it means to be a family.
From Nick Cassavetes, director of The Notebook, comes the story of a family torn apart by a daughter's illness and the shocking decision her little sister springs on them.
Cameron Diaz (Charlie's Angels) stars as the mother of the family, a grief-stricken, hollowed-out woman who has given up everything to keep her leukemia-stricken daughter alive. In fact, she and her husband (Jason Patric, The Lost Boys) go as far as having another child specifically to supply their ailing daughter with much-needed transplants. Anna (Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine) is the "designer offspring." She's had quite enough of this poking and prodding and isn't too keen on coughing up a kidney, so she tracks down a lawyer (Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock) and pushes to medically emancipate herself from her family.
This decision sends shockwaves through the family, advancing this bizarre case to a judicial hearing. A lot of crying and gnashing of teeth later, the truth comes out and...there's more crying.
Much like the main little girl in the movie, My Sister's Keeper is engineered for a specific purpose -- to get you bawling until you hack up a spleen. These kinds of handkerchief-saturating movies can go one of two ways: a) they come across as cynical, engineered weepfests designed to manipulate emotional responses from the audience with syrupy music, slow-motion sequences and loads of on-screen blubbering; or b) the tears are earned because of the performances, writing, and subject matter. I typically don't find any middle ground with these films. Well, here's one of those rare tearjerkers that flirts with both sides, to varying effect.
The performances were up to the task. Normally, I find Cameron Diaz to be as talented an actress as she is a public policy wonk, but she's good here. It's not a sympathetic role either. Her character is so strung out, after years of high-stress living, she essentially goes bat-@#$% nuts and alienates pretty much everyone around her. It might be aggravating, but it is genuine, which I would hazard is Cassavetes's primary objective -- to craft an authentic-feeling portrait of a family grappling with death. Around Diaz, you get decent stuff from Breslin, Patric, Baldwin, and even Joan Cusack as a judge who emotes like a champ but displays a jarringly inappropriate sense of jurisprudence.
The film uses flashbacks to relate the story of the ill sister and her relationship with her siblings, which is where the sentimentality is laid on nice and thick, to the point where they were distracting in their attempts to squeeze ever last drop of moisture from your tear ducts. The whole storyline with the girl and her boyfriend from the cancer ward? Fine, sad, and all, but it didn't quite fit with the rest of the film, seeming to exist mainly as another attempt at heartache. Also, there's zero humor, which could have helped defuse the atomic melodrama.
Finally, if you've read the book, expect big changes. My wife clued me in on the controversial ending of the source material and, needless to say, it was probably wise for the filmmakers to deviate. The ending they did choose was nihilistic in its own way, though, and proved to be the final dose of the doldrums to ensure you would eject the disc feeling nice and bummed out.
On Blu-ray, we get a solid technical presentation, beginning with the 2.40:1 widescreen, a clean and colorful transfer that provides a great bump in fidelity. Despite the content, this is a bright film and the vibrancy of the high-def infusion makes New Line's visual upgrade a winner. It isn't a loud film though, dialogue-heavy and laced with the forlorn soundtrack you'd expect, so don't expect potent aggression from the TrueHD mix. Extras: a behind-the-scenes featurette (in high-def), 15 minutes of deleted scenes, and a digital copy.
It's uneven and humorless, but there is genuine emotion to be siphoned out of My Sister's Keeper. The Blu-ray's not bad.
Not Guilty, but mainly because I'd feel like a mega-dick for saying otherwise.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes
* Digital Copy