Family’s heartbreaking dilemma

2009-08-17 00:00

MY Sister’s Keeper is harrowing and you will need a box of tissues to watch it — but the performances and the story make the emotional turmoil well worthwhile.

Based on Jodi Picoult’s novel of the same name, the film tells the story of Sara (Cameron Diaz) and Brian Fitzgerald (Jason Patric), a couple who meet, marry and have two gorgeous children. But the bottom falls out of their world when doctors diagnose their daughter Kate (Sofia Vassilieva) with a rare form of leukaemia.

After tests, Sara, Brian and their son Jesse (Evan Ellingson) are ruled out as potential bone marrow donors and the couple must face up to the fact that Kate will die unless a suitable match is found.

Their oncologist then suggests a radical solution — a designer baby, created in a petri dish, who can be an exact genetic match. Sara agrees immediately, despite Brian’s concerns and so Anna (Abigail Breslin) is conceived and literally from birth starts to provide her sister with blood, bone marrow and anything else she needs.

The crunch comes when Kate’s kidneys fail and she needs a kidney transplant. Sara expects Anna to provide the organ, but she decides instead to employ a lawyer, Campbell Alexander (Alec Baldwin), to represent her as she wants to sue her parents for the right to choose what happens to her own body.

But this film is not a courtroom drama debating the moral rights and wrongs of having designer babies. Rather it — through flashbacks — shows the effect that Kate’s illness has had on the family.

Her mother has given up practising law to fight for her life; her father feels sidelined by his wife’s single-minded devotion; son, Jesse’s dyslexia is almost missed as the family concentrates on Kate and little Anna undergoes painful medical procedures year after year.

So, when Anna chooses to put a stop to the medical procedures, her decision traumatises her family, especially as it becomes clear to everyone that there’s more to that decision than meets the eye. To say more would spoil the plot, however, so I’ll keep my lips sealed.

The acting is superb across the board. Diaz is compelling as Sara, a mother hell bent on saving her child, and shows once again that she’s not just a pretty face.

There’s a line in the film where she says that while people might find her decision to use Anna’s body to help Kate live appalling, they shouldn’t judge her until they have walked in her shoes. As a mother of a child born with health problems, I found myself in agreement. You simply don’t know what you’re prepared to do to ensure your child lives and thrives until you have to face it.

Breslin, who impressed so many in Little Miss Sunshine, shows again what a fine young actress she is. She manages to show the conflict that Anna feels — on the one hand loving and wanting to help her sister and yet knowing that her decision not to will have fatal consequences.

Vassilieva’s portrayal of the terminally ill Kate is praiseworthy, as is Joan Cusack’s portrayal of the judge, who has recently lost her own child.

My Sister’s Keeper is an intelligent, thought-provoking, occasionally funny and deeply moving film. It’s a must-see, but like I said earlier, you had better bring along some tissues.


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