Hollywood boasts a proud tradition of equal-opportunity schlockery: Every testosterone-spewing blockbuster must be paired with a weepie for the ladies. And nothing guarantees gallons of tears like the phrases "little girl with leukemia" and "from the director of The Notebook. "
Based on Jodi Picoult's airport bestseller, My Sister's Keeper is an old-school chixploitation flick that uses every swelling piano cue, slow-mo sunset, crying montage and bagpiped "Amazing Grace" epilogue in the book to serve one purpose—milking tear ducts by showing a child suffering. The film tells the story of a family divided when daughter Kate (Sofia Vassilieva in a rather good turn) is diagnosed with leukemia. To prolong her life, the family births "donor child" test-tube baby Anna (Little Miss Sunshine superfreak Abigail Breslin), who exists to provide Kate organs. But when cutie-pie Anna gets a lawyer (Alec Baldwin) and sues for medical emancipation, the family is thrown into turmoil.
Director Nick Cassavetes—spawn of arthouse marvel John—knows melodrama, and makes sure every character's anguish is shown. Control-freak mom Cameron Diaz has a mental breakdown a minute; dad Jason Patric sheds solitary tears during hugs; little Anna is chastised for wanting a say in where her kidneys go; and poor Kate just wants to die. The result is a scattershot portrait of too many people (all of whom narrate) losing their lives to a disease through a series of one-dimensional flashbacks and a forced courtroom battle. The film's core is the relationship between the sisters, and there are some sweet moments, particularly Kate detailing to little sis her first kiss with a co-patient. But Cassavetes' attempts to warm the heart are trumped by his desire to break it, and he uses the disease (and the audiences' potential memories of losing a loved one) shamelessly. We watch Kate vomit blood, pass out, vomit french fries, lose friends, go through chemo, and fade away. Any viewer would be hard pressed not to shed a tear—or see right through the manipulation.
My Sister's Keeper is like a Lifetime movie written by a longtime subscriber to the American Medical Journal, and marks yet another sloppy incision fumbling to pierce the heart. PG-13.
Opens Friday at Cedar Hills, Eastport, Cinema 99, City Center, Cornelius, Division, Evergreen, Fox Tower, Hilltop, Lloyd Center, Movies on TV, Oak Grove, Sandy, Sherwood and Wilsonville.