Movie Review: MY SISTER’S KEEPER (2009) – Quite The Emotional Rollercoaster

Published by Shah Shahid on

I rarely watch the slow, emotionally draining, family dramas. They do nothing for me. I’d rather watch a bad action movie with Van Damme. And I have.

However, based on various recommendations, I ended up checking out one such slow tear jerker, which… I was actually riveted by. MY SISTER’S KEEPER has unexpected layers which wasn’t marketed during the hype… but it might’ve actually worked for the film in a big way.

Rating: 3 Out Of 5 Stars

dramatically awesome…

Premise: Parents of a 15 year old girl with Cancer, decide to have a test tube baby who will be an exact match for, well, everything of their Cancer Baby. The reasoning is that, this way, the 2nd kid’s blood, cells, bone marrow, etc… can be harvested for the Cancer kid if and when she needs it, to extend or possibly cure her. The 2nd kid, or ‘Designer Baby’, grows up and at 11 years old, after years of traumatic medical procedures, decides she wants control of her own body, and sues her parents; knowing full hell that her refusal to help could easily mean the death of her older Cancer sister.

Simple yea? You expect a few dramatically moving scenes, a little courtroom drama, some yelling and then when it reaches the peak of horrible-ness… everyone makes up in a sea of tears and sobbing.

What blew my mind about MY SISTER’S KEEPER is how multilayered the film really was. Based on the 2004 book of the same name by Jodi Picoult, this movie tackles aspects that an audience wouldn’t otherwise think about at first glance of a family in this situation.

The Narrative: Multiple! The film is narrated by almost all the major characters. Starting with Anna, the ‘Designer Baby’, we’re taken through everyone’s first person narration of what they’ve gone through in all this. Everyone from the Mom, Dad, Brother, Lawyer, to even the Cancer girl herself. OK, that’s enough… her name is Kate played brilliantly by Sofia Vassilieva.

sisterly love…

This type of narration gives the audience insight into perspective of every relevant character. It may not have much impact, like Jesse the eldest Brother’s neglected son angle, however it compounds all the stories into a cohesive pile of awesome-ness that gives the audience an idea of how fucked their lives really are.

The Style: I can’t really say that MY SISTER’S KEEPER is told entirely in flashback, as chunks of the film do focus on the ‘now’ scenes. However, the flashbacks play a significant role. They come up very subtly and flow into the existing storyline without being abrupt or jarring.

Unlike typical flashback sequences, most of the ones in this movie, don’t really tell an ‘origin’ or any sort of ‘how it happened’ kind of thing. Sure, there’s a few scenes of the parents finding out how their 2-3 year old had Cancer, how they reacted and decided to have the ‘Designer Baby’ as a way out. But other scenes really more focus on the life this girl had. A 15 year old girl, who tries to live a lifetime in a short while, with a mother who’s just horribly persistent.

The director, Nick Cassavetes does a great job in handling these scenes, as they don’t take away from the ‘present’ story but add to it with depth and layers.

Performances: Goddamn! Cameron Diaz has always been annoying to me. And she is annoying in MY SISTER’S KEEPER as well. However, it suits the role she’s playing. A mom who’s spent years refusing to give up on her daughter, causing her to become hard and uncaring, is what Diaz plays this time around. Sara has spent so much time fighting for her elder daughter’s life, that she’s forgotten to love her children. It’s a great dynamic that I haven’t seen before. And Diaz does it to perfection.

oh yea, she also goes bald to support her kid with Cancer…

You can imagine what a slippery slope it is when you conceive one child to save another. That 2nd child’s body is essentially a resource for the parents to tap whenever the elder daughter is sick. Imagine the quality of life of that 2nd child. These are the mind boggling concepts that MY SISTER’S KEEPER puts forth.

Abigail Breslin as the 2nd kid who refuses to take part in her own exploitation for the benefit of her older sister, is awesome. She plays the part with such turmoil and angst. It’s only through her that the audience realizes just how fucked the entire scenario is, when one child’s existence is solely for the benefit of another dying child.

the awkward ‘I don’t wanna give my kidney to save my dying sister’ conversation…

Sofia Vassilieva As the first daughter with Cancer is awesome. She plays this part with such heart and rarely is the character crying, but mostly optimistic. It’s a tough part to play given the obviously superficial changes. But Sofia knocks it outta the park.

I was on the edge of my seat for most of the time, expecting a great courtroom drama to unfold. It never does. There’s all of 2 scenes in the courtroom setting. However, the kid suing the parents, isn’t the focus of the story. And I wasn’t disappointed AT ALL.

I have to mention Joan Cusack as the judge presiding over this case, is great as well. Not her typical whiny roles that she’s made a name with. Even Alec Baldwin in a small role is supremely impressive. Another great thing about this film is how even the minor characters are given a backstory that affects the story.

MY SISTER’S KEEPER is a great film, executed very well. Not once does it try to play up the emotional angles for the sake of trying to draw out tears from the audience. It’s a film that doesn’t pander to the audience with a ‘look how sad this is’ mentality. I will most definitely be checking out the book this film was based on.


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Shah Shahid

Entertainment Writer | Film & TV Critic | Bollywood Blogger | Host of Split Screen Podcast | Proud Geek Girl Dad

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