Movie Review: My Sister’s Keeper

Nov 20th, 2009 | By | Category: Movie Reviews, Reviews

by Mike Courson

Bad movies are upsetting. After being disappointed with Jodi Picoult’s book My Sister’s Keeper, I had high hopes for the movie. Not since The Shawshank Redemption has a film outdone the book (or novella in Stephen King’s case). The streak continues.

Before going further, this review is filled with spoilers, both of the book and of the movie.

One problem with debate in America is the injection of emotion. Without a doubt, emotion is the reason for bloated ratings for My Sister’s Keeper. Even I bawled like a baby throughout the film. Having a friend die recently of cancer, seeing a young girl and her family struggle did evoke plenty of emotion. Those tears, however, were more a result of real life tragedy, and less the result of a poorly made movie.

To begin with, the movie seems to take some of the worst parts of the book and leave out some of the more interesting stuff. The book and the movie both jump around between the characters. Or at least the movie begins that way. Not long into, it as if the writer’s got tired and just decided to drop that particular gimmick. Why they even tried it escapes me.

Then there are the character flaws. Naturally, the book examined this a little more thoroughly, but even it used cliché to narrowly define key characters. The movie takes this a step further, barely giving the viewer a glimpse of the actual characters. The only hints we get are a series of very specific actions. The mother in both manages to be despicable in both the book and the movie, but with limited development in the film, is even less likeable.

There are major components of the book left out of the film. Most noticeable is the changed ending. I gave Picoult, as did many others, grief on her manufactured and implausible ending in the book. Credit to Nick Cassavetes for changing the ending for the movie, but it seems wrong to take a book and make such a dramatic change for the silver screen.

In both the book and the movie, one cannot help but fall in love with the sick Kate. The book provides some catharsis and an accident ends up leading to her rescue. Expecting this same ending in the movie, I was surprised when she died. Oddly enough, the movie leaves an empty feeling once she dies. Maybe that is because of the expectation created by reading the book.

Also absent is the love interest between the attorney and  a former lover involved in the case. I thought it cheesy that Picoult would insert such a side-story into a novel about a family dealing with cancer, but we all know love stories sell. The female half was not included in the movie, which still managed to stretch for nearly two hours. I am actually thankful she was not carried over to the film, or I might have wasted an extra hour watching that part of the story.

The brother in the book is a cookie-cutter juvenile delinquent. Not getting the attention he needs, he turns to drugs and arson. This is even more dramatic given that his father is a fire fighter. The film downplays the level of delinquency, and the arson story is completely dropped.

Finally, the attorney is given much more character in the book. The movie does feature his service dog named Judge, but missing are all the false reasons he gives for having a service dog. When it is finally revealed why he has the dog, the scene lacks impact since it is not played up throughout. Again, they had no real reason to put it in the movie if they could not give it full justice.sad.gif

The movie making itself also fails. Not since Passion of the Christ have I seen a film that so obviously tries to manipulate my feelings. Gilded lighting, long, action-less, sweeping scenes on top of piano-driven sob songs, and focus on Kate’s face are attempts to evoke emotion. It might have worked if the movie were to take on an epic quality, but with choppy scenes and mediocre acting, they merely make all involved look a little silly.

The book is not written in chronological order. It skips around between characters and across time. They try this in the film, and it is sometimes hard to distinguish when they do so. They also do it frequently enough that it is impossible to get a real feel for the characters, and often difficult to weigh the gravity of a situation.

In the end, the viewer gets a movie that can generate tears. It is not a complete failure. There are some touching scenes, some decent observations about illness, and everything starts with a great premise: one young girl wants to die with dignity and her sister does not want to give up a kidney. It is, though, poorly constructed, often poorly acted, and completely manipulative when it comes to eliciting that emotional response.

You will see high ratings for this film: the average viewer will cry, and though those tears are probably more about someone they knew, they will credit the movie. As a movie watcher, I was able to distinguish between the two, and give My Sister’s Keeper two out of ten stars.

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