Making a weepie for mass audiences can't be that hard: Just place a person in a tragic situation and steer clear of the resultant flood. But making a weepie that doesn't feel manipulative, exploitive or sloppily sentimental is another matter altogether. With My Sister's Keeper, an adaptation of Jodi Picoult's novel, director-cowriter Nick Cassavetes largely succeeds in respecting both his subject matter and his audience.
As with previous films (including The Notebook), Cassavetes shows that he has trouble properly pacing a mainstream effort -- a direct result, perhaps, of being the son of indie icon John Cassavetes, who always marched to his own idiosyncratic beat. But this absence of Hollywood know-how also allows this latest work to speak plainly, relating the story of a young girl, Anna Fitzgerald (Abigail Breslin), whose parents (Cameron Diaz and Jason Patric) created her specifically so they would have "spare parts" (bone marrow, kidney, etc.) to help prolong the life of their cancer-stricken daughter Kate (Sofia Vassilieva). Anna finally objects to second-class status and sues her parents for "medical emancipation."
Alec Baldwin is a lot of fun as Anna's sympathetic lawyer, and we wish there were more of him; at the same time, the fact that Cassavetes and co-scripter Jeremy Leven limit his screen time demonstrates their determination to fastidiously avoid any crowd-pleasing but unnecessary theatrics that would detract from the sincerity of the story. Rather, more time is spent on the moral implications of the issue at hand (nobody, not even Diaz's myopic mom, is painted as a villain), and the picture never shies away from showing the physical deterioration of Kate (Vassilieva is excellent in the role). My Sister's Keeper isn't quite a keeper -- beyond Cassavetes' erratic direction, the shortchanging of some key characters hinders the product -- but it's a sturdy melodrama that earns those copious tears.