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Cry a River with 'My Sister's Keeper'
Cancer drama fails to go deep
Brian Orndorf (briano)     Print Article 
Published 2009-06-27 16:30 (KST)   
I think 쏮y Sister셲 Keeper has been robotic-engineered to makes audiences weep uncontrollably. It's a tear-jerking Terminator, an unstoppable force that beats the screen with tragedies of all shapes and sizes, looking to wear down the viewer until they셱e a puddle of tears and snotty tissue. It셲 a hostile approach to storytelling that director Nick Cassavetes manipulated to finely tuned results with the 2004 sleeper smash, 쏷he Notebook. For 쏫eeper, the effort is much more transparent, and every instance of genuine tragic ache is followed up by two others that drip with obnoxious manipulation and creaky execution.

Born for the sole purpose of providing her cancer-stricken sister Kate (Sofia Vassilieva) with organs and blood transfusions, 11-year-old Anna (Abigail Breslin) has grown weary of her lifelong duty. Purchasing the services of lawyer Campbell Alexander (Alec Baldwin), Anna decides to sue her parents, Sara (Cameron Diaz) and Brian (Jason Fitzpatrick), for medical emancipation. Turning her household upside down with her legal demands, Anna observes her family, including loner brother Jesse (Evan Ellingson) break down, watching Kate slip away as her condition worsens. Heading to trial, Sara is frantic to understand her youngest daughter셲 decision, while Anna fights to keep her opinions heard through Alexander셲 courtroom gifts.

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Based on the 2004 novel by Jodi Picoult, 쏫eeper (scripted by Cassavetes and Jeremy Leven) suffers from a suffocating case of the adaption blues. Imagined as a sprawling tale of personal suffering, the picture instead becomes a low-wattage tear-jerker, deploying tried and true sequences of cancerous suffering to develop a sympathetic bond with the audience, coated with melodrama for the proper amount of synthetic emotional penetration.

The intentions of the film are on the obvious side, but I hold no animosity toward an enthusiastic crowd-pleaser. My distaste for 쏫eeper lies within the cluttered screenplay.

While chiefly the story of Anna battling to preserve her body while she watches her angelic sister waste away, Cassavetes is careful to maintain Picoult셲 extensive narrative, juggling a host of trials and tribulations that steal needed focus away from the court case and its fascinating discussion of parental ethics.

The asides are handled suitably by the director, who shifts perspective and narration duties repeatedly to achieve a three-dimensional perspective of Kate셲 ordeal. However, every character seems to hold their own goopy wad of tragedy in their back pocket, which reads as much too artificial, especially juxtaposed with Cassavetes셲 efforts to construct some areas of familial reality to the drama.

By taking time to address an entire spectrum of depressive personalities and contemplations of mortality, a few characters are short-shifted, most notably Jesse, who bombs around Hollywood in a daze, but never builds toward any recognizable catharsis. Patric셲 Brian is also a muddled depiction, gone from the film셲 midsection for much too long. His perspective on his daughter's illness, and his wife셲 increasingly protective mania, is sorely missed.

Vassilieva셲 portrayal of Kate is a searing communication of traditional teenage frustration and devastating deathbed reminiscence, which Cassavetes uses often to disrupt the time-line and ventilate the conflict. Watching Kate not only struggle with her cancer, but also the growing pains of her pubescent years (a subplot with Kate taking on a fellow patient as a boyfriend is heartbreaking) lends 쏫eeper the perfect gradation of sentiment.

When the film stays focused on the small passages of despair, the results are extraordinary. However, Cassavetes would rather cover the erosion of Kate셲 health in lurid detail and bathe 쏫eeper in weepy basic cable montages (scored to cloying pop songs), seeking to extract tears at any cost. The obnoxious calculation smothers what should셶e been a pure articulation of melancholy and a potent debate of morality.

©2009 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Brian Orndorf

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