Can an eleven-year-old girl, even one as insanely precocious as Abigail Breslin’s Anna Fitzgerald, sue her parents for the medical rights to her body?
She can in “My Sister’s Keeper,” directed by Nick Cassavetes, written by Cassavetes and Jeremy Leven, based on Jodi Picoult's novel.
This is a film that will tug at your heartstrings even as it raises all sorts of relevant biolethical issues.
It’s the story of Anna, conceived in vitro for the expressed purpose of having parts of her body used to save the life of her 15-year-old sister, Kate (Sofia Vassilieva), who is in kidney failure, dying of leukemia.
On one hand you can understand the lengths to which her mother Sara (Cameron Diaz) and, to a lesser degree, her father, Brian (Jason Patric) will go to help Kate. Wouldn’t you?
Diaz is particularly effective in the role of a mother who gave up her career as an attorney to devote herself full-time to her ailing daughter. She’s a full speed ahead bulldog, determined, even maniacal. She plays the part well.
On the other hand you can understand the motivation, well, at least one of the motivations, to which Anna will go to defy her mother’s wishes. In her voiceovers (all family members take turns narrating parts of the film), she notes that most babies are accidents (alcohol, no protection). But no, she was calculated, purposeful. Her existence, as she understood it, was utilitarian. She wasn’t so much a bundle of joy as a fit-for-harvest donor.
These procedures are painful, to put it mildly; and the latest, the kidney transplant, will have a major impact on her teenage years: no soccer, no volleyball, no underage drinking. Alec Baldwin is well cast as Campbell Alexander the billboard attorney who wins 91% of his cases; an understanding guy, a maverick who will take on potentially groundbreaking cases, as this would be.
It’s not until the end that you understand what’s really going on. You see how close the two sisters and the brother Jesse (Evan Ellingson), really are. You understand the otherwise cheery demeanor of the two sisters towards each other, even while the court case is looming.
For a good hunk of the film you’re wondering why one or the other sister isn’t giving the other at least a meaningful stink eye. Originally I thought that was a defect; that this seeming closeness was meant to show how normal all this was, especially in light of a trial and attendant publicity that would tear the family apart.
But the ending is magnificent. It turns out that, though the film does raise issues of bioethics, about a young girl’s legal rights to her body (and her body parts), at heart it’s a very sweet, very well done film that doesn’t so much get mired in maudlin melancholy as show the lengths to which one sister will go for another, the mother be damned. Latchkey children, my foot: these kids are part of a nuclear family whose nucleus no atomic scientist could ever rend asunder.