My Sister's Keeper is a horror movie for parents and a righteous weeper that earns its tears. Directed with a sure, sensitive hand by Nick Cassavetes (The Notebook), it is an actors' showcase built on a moral dilemma. But at its most basic, it's a good cry.
The Fitzgeralds are coping, with seeming good humor and positive attitude, with a sick child. But we can't see the cost — not right away. Mom (Cameron Diaz) is maniacally focused. Dad (Jason Patric) is a loving breadwinner with a ready smile. But the leukemia that might kill Kate (Sofia Vassilieva) is sucking up all the attention. Brother Jesse (Evan Ellingson) is lost in the vortex of Kate's treatments and relapses.
Anna (Abigail Breslin), 11, has had enough. She's the youngest, the child who was "engineered," she narrates, a kid they had who would provide the fetal cells and bone marrow that might give Kate a chance. She might love her sister, but she's willing to hire a lawyer whom she has seen on TV (Alec Baldwin) to sue to get out of the procedures that have dominated her life.
My Sister's Keeper has many ways in which it could go wrong at this point. But Cassavetes, working from a novel by Jodi Picoult, never makes a bad move. Sympathies shift as we see what every member of this barely functional family has had to deal with for more than a decade. The story's structure — many of the characters narrate their points of view — moves the film along and leaves room for great acting.
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Diaz gives one of the best performances of her career as the "villain" of the piece, an uncompromising woman who has her reasonable moments. Baldwin is on the money, as always, but so is Breslin, 13, who has turned Little Miss Sunshine into a career of character turns that show she can hold her own with the best.
Vassilieva, 16, anchors the film with a playful, soulful presence. She makes Kate a real teenager who is keenly aware of what her illness is costing others.
Even the montages set to mournful pop ballads never cross into maudlin. Cassavetes balances the ethical debate with teenage rites of passage, the grim pallor of death with moments of humor.
Films that put us in a true moral dilemma and make us consider the unthinkable are as rare as bargain popcorn in the summer. Cassavetes and cast do nothing less than that and turn this weeper into a keeper.