My Sister's Keeper | Screen | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

My Sister's Keeper

A two-hanky film about a teen-age girl dying of cancer

If you'd like a summer movie to sob through rather than laugh or hoot at, you can't go wrong with Nick Cassavetes' adaptation of Jodi Picoult's best-selling novel. In it, a family of five finds their lives consumed with one child's devastating cancer.

At 15, Kate (Sofia Vassilieva) is dying, and her last chance is a kidney transplant from her younger sister, Anna (Abigail Breslin). But, Anna, who was an IVF baby conceived specifically to provide Kate with spare platelets, bone marrow and other vital fluids, doesn't just balk -- she files a lawsuit for medical emancipation.

Flashbacks sketch in the family's tortuous history -- Kate's diagnosis as a toddler, the ongoing neglect of the other children, the impositions placed on Anna and the strain the illness places on the family. Yet it's not all gloom -- Breslin and Vassilieva are engaging young actresses -- and there are some laughs and good times. But needless to say, that is in relief to the increasingly horrifying death march Kate is on. (The makeup, combined with Vassilieva's expressive eyes, conveys a painfully realistic depiction of death by degrees.)

The telescoping of so much tragedy into a two-hour film occasionally threatens to sink Keeper into pathos overload -- and the voice-over mulling life and death from a too-wise child often rings false. (As does the cheesy cheat of Kate's meticulously constructed memory scrapbooks.) But the less-sentimental side of my brain was intrigued by the story's moral dilemma (even if its resolution was another cheat): Exactly what are Anna's obligations, if any, to her sister, and who determines them?

The film is fairly faithful to the book, except for one significant change that should keep post-screening discussions lively. After you've mopped up, of course. If you don't bring a hanky, don't say I didn't warn you.