Reel Review: ‘My Sister’s Keeper’ an emotional tale - bring a tissue

The one-sentence plot description for “My Sister’s Keeper” is all you need to understand that a) you will likely need tissue (if not for you, then for the person you’re with) and b) you will supposedly have learned something meaningful about life and/or death. Here it is: Anna Fitzgerald looks to earn medical emancipation from her parents who until now have relied on their youngest child to help their leukemia-stricken daughter, Kate, remain alive.

Although the plot summary makes it appear as if the legal case that Anna (“Little Miss Sunshine’s” Abigail Breslin, still adorable even in her pre-teen awkwardness) has filed against her parents is at the core of this movie, don’t mistake it for an expose on the medical ethics surrounding the creation of genetically-matched “designer babies” brought into the world to serve as “spare parts” for their ill sibling. Although you will certainly be introduced to this alarming trend (though how often this actually happens is not divulged), the facts of the case are more of a jumping-off place in which to enter the lives of the Fitzgerald family.

Sara Fitzgerald (Cameron Diaz) is really the central figure as the mother who blindly refuses to give up the battle for her daughter Kate’s (Sofia Vassilieva) life, even when her healthy daughter and her lawyer (a smile-inducing Alec Baldwin) insist it is doing Anna more harm than it is helping Kate. Meanwhile, the men in the family, father Brian (Jason Patric) and son Jesse (Evan Ellingson), stand stoically in the wings, ignored, hurting and estranged from the women in the heat of the emotional battle.

The film uses flashbacks throughout to reveal telling moments within this quickly unraveling family throughout Kate’s almost-lifelong illness. This is an effective tool in keeping the film mostly within the complex confines of the characters and their struggles, rather than a chronicling of one child’s progressing illness. But this jumping around leaves some chronological holes, especially when Diaz shaves her head in solidarity with her bald daughter in one scene and is never seen with shorn locks (or even short hair) again. The sacrifice kind of loses its impact if it doesn’t last.

Diaz holds her own quite well in a maternal role instead of her usual sex symbol. Good thing, since she is in her mid-30s and, well, we know what Hollywood thinks about that.

But still, it’s not like Diaz - or anyone else in the movie - is hard on the eyes. In fact, everyone is downright beautiful and glowing, even in sickness. It’s almost distracting.

Combine the family’s sparkling beauty with the fact that they never once mention matters that might affect we mere mortals - such as loss of income from leaving your job to care for your sick child, health insurance paperwork, outside obligations such as friends, hobbies, school - you get the picture. This story and this family can feel a bit like a fairy tale, even in the face of enormous suffering.

Director and co-writer Nick Cassavetes has a sweet touch, which can escalate to the saccharine. (He did direct “The Notebook.”) And he unfortunately gives in to the most tired of the “dying movie” cliches - the sick person who suddenly has all the sage wisdom of an elder, granting tidbits of enlightenment to those they are leaving behind. The poor girl is only 15 years old and has spent her entire life sheltered in hospitals or at home - she can’t be all that wise. But she also has genuine moments of heartbreaking teenage angst and bravery we can all admire.

And yes, she made me cry.

‘My Sister’s Keeper

  • Rated PG-13
  • Grade: B
  • Opens June 26