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Case Number 17720

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My Sister's Keeper

New Line // 2009 // 109 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // November 17th, 2009

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All Rise...

Judge Clark Douglas is his sister's keeper. He keeps her locked in the closet. Mwahaha!

Editor's Note

Our review of My Sister's Keeper (Blu-Ray), published November 30th, 2009, is also available.

The Charge

What does it mean to be a family?

Opening Statement

"Most babies are accidents. Not me. I was engineered. Born to save my sister's life."

Facts of the Case

Kate Fitzgerald (Sofia Vassilieva, Medium) is slow dying of leukemia. Ever since Kate was young, she has been receiving blood, bone marrow, and much more from her younger sister Anna (Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine). Now, Kate's mother (Cameron Diaz, The Mask) and father (Jason Patric, The Alamo) are telling Anna that they want her to donate a kidney. Anna, now 11 years old, decides that she doesn't want to do it anymore. She hires an attorney (Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock) and attempts to sue her parents for the rights to her own body. However, if Anna does not donate the kidney, it's a certainty that her sister will die. Is Anna really willing to sacrifice her sister's life for the sake of her own health?

The Evidence

There are some very serious ethical issues being debated and discussed in My Sister's Keeper, compelling issues worthy of being addressed and argued. Unfortunately, these issues are trapped within the confines of a shameless, emotionally manipulative weep-fest. Rather than confronting the ethical challenges head-on, the film cheats by inserting a series of incredibly contrived scenarios into the mix. The director is Nick Cassavettes, whose films John Q, The Notebook, and Alpha Dog have all contained at least some measure of emotional manipulation. My Sister's Keeper tops them all.

I have no real regard for Sara and Brian Fitzgerald, the mother and father played by Diaz and Patric. Sure, they love Kate and they're willing to do anything to help her, but that love leads them into some rather reprehensible moral decisions. A doctor inexplicably advises them that the best way to help Kate is to provide the DNA required to create a perfect "donor child" and then to force that child to share various bodily organs and fluids with Kate. The idea of growing human beings in a test tube in order to harvest their organs sounds like the premise of a horror film (in fact, it was the premise of Michael Bay's The Island), but in My Sister's Keeper such atrocities are dismissed as loving actions of loving parents. After all, even if Anna will probably have a shorter life span and a rather inactive life in general due to the medical procedures she will be forced to endure, at least she and her sister might still be alive, right? Perhaps you'll be as horrified by Anna's actions as Sara is, but I found it incredibly cruel of Sara and Brian to even create Anna in the first place. Yes, it is tragic that Kate is dying of cancer, but a human being (no matter how young) should never be forced to sacrifice their quality of life against their will. Please note that I'm not talking about what I feel the right thing is in terms of what Anna ought to do, but rather the rights that she should have.

I admit that I found the initial debate involving, because I was strongly on Anna's side and wanted to see how the film would address her case. Alas, the film is not about debating issues in a complex manner, but rather about pushing emotional buttons. There is a revelation later in the film. I will not say what the revelation is, but suffice it to say that it completely undercuts the entire argument and makes it irrelevant. It sets up a different sort of ethical debate, one that is also handled in an easily digestible manner. Add in the judge's (a very good Joan Cusack, Say Anything) troubled past and the lawyer's secret medical condition, and you have a film that shoves aside unpleasant truth in favor of agonizingly contrived circumstances in which no one is really "the bad guy" or has to make any selfish decisions.

Apart from the problems I have with the way the film approaches these ethics issues, I have a problem with its basic construction. There are occasional bits of narration provided by numerous characters, inserted awkwardly whenever the film feels a need to explain exactly how someone is feeling (it's generally obvious, making the narration rather pointless). Numerous potentially involving or intriguing scenes are thrown away in favor of creating an endless array of simplistic montages. I'm serious, this movie pauses at least every 5 or 10 minutes to dig up another montage. See everyone playing together at the beach! See two young lovers laughing while having lunch! See everyone crying and hugging each other! All of these scenes (and most others, for that matter) are underscored by a predictable piano-driven Aaron Zigman score. There's also the exasperating sense that every plot strand serves no purpose other than to make people cry (see as evidence the romantic subplot between Kate and another cancer patient; he's only introduced so that we can be upset when he dies).

The DVD transfer is very solid, conveying the image with clarity and warmth. There are moments that look a little soft, and background detail is a bit lacking at times, but overall this warm n' fuzzy image looks stellar. The audio is a bit more problematic, as there are a few bits of dialogue that are buried underneath the music and sound design. In addition, the score tends to veer between overbearing and barely audible. It's not horrible, but these problems do nag at you. Both the widescreen and fullscreen versions of the film are included (don't worry, it's not one of those annoying double-sided discs). Otherwise, the only supplement on the disc is a 15-minute batch of "powerful additional scenes." I'm rather surprised that the disc didn't at least include a standard-issue making-of featurette.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Joan Cusack and Alec Baldwin join forces to create a handful of rather good scenes, but the screen time is very limited. The movie would much rather squeeze an extra dozen or so montages.

Closing Statement

Though it's competently crafted and certain viewers are going to call it the most moving film they've seen all year (my own sister can't stop raving about how much she loves it), My Sister's Keeper is Lifetime Channel garbage posing as a thought-provoking drama. Ugh.

The Verdict


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Scales of Justice

Video: 87
Audio: 75
Extras: 10
Acting: 70
Story: 20
Judgment: 40

Perp Profile

Studio: New Line
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
• Bad
• Drama

Distinguishing Marks

• Deleted Scenes


• IMDb

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