- Rated PG-13
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All photos © Warner Bros.
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
he testosterone-fueled sci-fi action blockbuster, “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” may arrive in theaters a full two days before “My Sister’s Keeper,” but you really couldn’t ask for a more perfect slice of counterprogramming. While millions of teenage boys will be lining up at their local cinema this weekend to watch giant robots battle it out as little Army Men-sized humans run around their feet pretending to help, their mothers will be curling up with a few gal pals and a box of Kleenex to check out Nick Cassavetes’ latest weepfest. Here’s the catch: “My Sister’s Keeper” is actually the better film. Though Michael Bay’s Ode to Awesomeness is certainly entertaining on a sheer guilty pleasure level, the small family drama is both better acted and has a far more interesting story that will have you thinking about more than just Megan Fox's body when it’s over.
Based on Jodi Picoult’s bestselling novel , Abigail Breslin stars as Anna Fitzgerald, an 11-year-old girl who was “genetically engineered” by her parents (Cameron Diaz and Jason Patric) to serve as a round-the-clock donor for her cancer-stricken sister, Kate (Sofia Vassilieva). When Kate’s condition worsens, and the chance that Anna will need to donate one of her kidneys becomes more likely, Anna shocks the family by hiring a lawyer (Alan Baldwin) to sue her parents for “medical emancipation.” With the court date fast approaching, the five family members (including eldest son, Jesse, played by Evan Ellingson) look back at the events that led them to their current situation.
Though the structure of the narrative may confuse some viewers at first (the story jumps back and forth so fast that it’s difficult to discern between past and present), it actually works to the story’s advantage as the audience slowly learns more about the Fitzgerald family history and why Anna has suddenly changed her mind. Unfortunately, the opening is bogged down by a shared narration between the characters that is not only distracting, but completely unnecessary. It was likely a mechanism used in the book that allowed for certain characters to talk about events that only they would know the specific details about, but co-writers Cassavetes and Jeremy Leven should have known better; and if they didn’t, then it should have been made clear after watching the first cut.
Still, while the script isn’t perfect, the performances within the film transform the material into something much more than just your typical Lifetime Movie of the Week. Cameron Diaz and Abigail Breslin may be the headlining stars, but they’re outclassed and outperformed in just about every scene by relative newcomer Sofia Vassilieva. Granted, she also happens to have the kind of part that’s been known to garner attention come awards time, but to see a young actress tackle such an emotionally demanding role is certainly deserving of some merit. Also terrific is Jason Patric, who despite playing second fiddle to Diaz’s overbearing wife, emotes so much with a single line or expression that he effortlessly wins the audience’s admiration and support. John Connor himself, Thomas Dekker, also appears in a pivotal role as Kate’s terminally ill boyfriend, while Joan Cusack delivers a solid turn as the judge assigned to the case.
Nick Cassavetes, who was thisclose to directing “Iron Man” a few years back, seems to have found his calling as a go-to guy for sentimental tearjerkers. He knows exactly when and how hard to pull the heartstrings (in this case, the moments are spaced out so that you’re on the verge of bawling throughout most of the 109-minute runtime) without sucking so much life out of the story that it’s completely devoid of humor. “My Sister’s Keeper” probably won’t go down as the best film of his career, nor will it earn the kind of loyal following of “The Notebook,” but it is an incredibly well-acted drama that serves as a welcome substitute for those not interested in the usual summer fare.