Nick Cassavetes remains an interesting case study. After years spent toiling as an actor in forgettable, masochistic, basic-cable fare like Sins of the Night or the third Delta Force movie -- you know, the one with Mike Norris, not Chuck Norris -- the tattooed New York native with the prestigious bloodline is now carving a niche behind the camera as a male filmmaker who's interested in female-targeted melodramas. His 1996 directorial debut, Unhook the Stars, encouraged two strong actresses (his mother, Gena Rowlands, and an underrated Marisa Tomei) to make the most of an underwhelming character piece. Hi most commercial success, the sentimental adaptation of Nicholas Sparks' The Notebook, expanded his fan base by treating the author's schmaltzy prose with a welcome sincerity. Article continues below
Cassavetes isn't as lucky with My Sister's Keeper, another heart-wrenching page-to-screen adaptation, this time of a Jodi Picoult novel about a young girl genetically engineered by her parents to be a donor child for her older sister, who is stricken with cancer. The ever-maturing Abigail Breslin juggles the complicated role of Anna Fitzgerald, the healthy sister who takes her parents (Cameron Diaz and Jason Patric) to court to sue for medical emancipation after years of donating vital organs so that her sibling may live. Bresling is matched by the fragile, endearing Sofia Vassilieva, star of NBC's supernatural thriller Medium,who embraces the usual clichés associated with cancer and morphs them into a decidedly individual performance that's free of irony and long on sentiment.
If only the rest of Keeper could follow the young actresses' leads. Because I haven't read Picoult's source material, I'm not sure whether the shamelessly manipulative plot devices belong to her or screenwriter Jeremy Leven. Keeper contains weepy hospital-room vigils, screechy courtroom battles (presided over by a judge, Joan Cusack, who also recently lost a child), phony family trips to sun-dappled beaches, and murky debates pitting science against the whims of the human heart. Talented cinematographer Caleb Deschanel knows how to shoot so that the material doesn't plunge too deeply into syrupy goop. Diaz, however, is one-note as a combative mother fighting for one child while ignoring the other. Patric is virtually forgotten as the dad caught in the middle. And Alec Baldwin sharpens his verbal deliveries to play the ambulance-chasing attorney hired by Breslin's sibling -- until he, too, is felled by a lame script twist. The honesty of the young actors' performances is not matched by Keeper, overall. It's an overly sentimental movie-of-the-week, masquerading as counterprogramming to Michael Bay's box-office-blasting robots.
June 26th, 2009 (wide)
November 17th, 2009 (DVD)
New Line Cinema
Cameron Diaz, Abigail Breslin, Sofia Vassilieva, Alec Baldwin, Joan Cusack, Thomas Dekker
Total: 25 vote(s).
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Rated PG-13 for mature thematic content, some disturbing images, sensuality, language and brief teen drinking.