My Sister’s Keeper.

Starring Cameron Diaz, Jason Patric, Abigail Breslin, Sofia Vassillieva. Directed by Nick Cassavetes, 109mins. 
Rated M (mature themes and infrequent coarse language).

This family drama takes on some very serious themes.  It is based on a novel and its approach is very emotional compared with how these themes might be treated in a documentary.  Press notes and quotes state that the film avoids any sentimental treatment but many non-American audiences will beg to differ.  This does not mean that US dramas cannot be made like this one – after all, it is part of the culture.  Less emotionally-oriented reviewers refuse to make these allowances and are severe with accusations of 'emotional manipulation'.  (One London reviewer, female in her 30s reviewer, ended with 'a ghoulishly glossy weepie indulgence that'll have cheap-sentiment junkies wallowing like happy hippos in a mud spa'.)

This means that we have a way of gauging whether we want to see this kind of film or not.  My guess is that many 'ordinary' audiences will find the film disturbing, moving and challenging.

We are told immediately by 11 year old Anna (played by that fine child actor, Abigail Breslin) that she was conceived in vitro so that her blood, marrow and organs would be compatible with her older (by three years) sister, Kate (Sofia Vassillieva) who has terminal illnesses and has been kept alive by the donations of her young sister and the relentless determination of her mother.  In the background is an older son who suffered from dyslexia when he was young but, like Anna, is usually relegated to support for Kate by their mother.  Their aunt stays with the family.  The father provides a solid background quietly backing his wife.

The crisis of the film, which simply presents the in vitro situation of Anna and her being available for Kate, is that Anna wants to stop giving.  She wants a life of her own.  She approaches a lawyer to take her case to a judge so that she has medical independence from her parents.

Early in the film, each character is introduced and speaks their particular point of view, so we have the complexity of the issues, compassion for Kate and a genuine concern for how much Anna has been hospitalises since she was born and what her life prospects are.  Most audiences, while acknowledging the strength of maternal love, will baulk at Sara Fitzgerald's single-mindedness.  Cameron Diaz gives a completely credible performance.  Jason Patric is the quieter father.  Alec Baldwin is the lawyer and Joan Cusack is particularly good as the judge in the case.

Out July 30

Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

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