A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this tearjerking drama explores some heavy themes that younger audiences may find difficult to process without guidance. A teenager is terminally ill, and her march to the end is painful: She vomits after chemo, her hair and eyebrows fall out, and more. The effects of her illness on her family are are similarly heartbreaking to watch. The film also touches on teenage sexuality and drinking and has some fairly infrequent swearing, including "f--k" and "s--t."
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Anna Fitzgerald (Abigail Breslin) was a wanted baby -- wanted more than anything in the world, because she was meant to save the life of her sister, Kate (Sofia Vassilieva), who's been battling leukemia since she was 2. The girls' mother, Sara (Cameron Diaz), vows to fend off death at all costs, even if it means using Anna as Kate’s lifeline; their father, Brian (Jason Patric), supports her but has to tamp down some doubts. And their son, Jesse (Evan Ellingson), struggles to be relevant in a household where cancer -- and any potential cure -- reigns above all else. Then, one day, Anna declares she’s had enough and, with the help of lawyer Campbell Alexander (Alec Baldwin), fights to be medically emancipated -- a move that could eliminate Kate’s last hope of survival.
Is it any good?
Based on Jodi Picoult’s same-named novel, MY SISTER’S KEEPER is a bona fide tearjerker. Given the subject matter, how could it not be? Director Nick Cassavetes has coaxed amazing performances from his first-rate cast, including Diaz, who surprises with the strength of her rage and melancholy as a mother determined not to see her child die. And the film does well what many other dramas about illness don’t: examine the toll that a prolonged sickness takes on everyone, not just the patient. The sibling relationships are especially nuanced; power imbalances are believably rendered right alongside deep familial love.
What keeps the film from achieving greatness is largely due to its structure. Characters tell their stories one at a time; it moves the plot along, but sometimes a little coercively. (There's a courtroom case embedded in the plotline, so the voiceovers do seem to make sense here. Nevertheless, they drain some of the power.) The movie tells you how to feel instead of taking you there.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how a serious illness can change a family's dynamics. Does the movie accurately portray a family in distress? Does it find any bright side in a very sad story? How do movies generally depict terminal illnesses? Is this one any different?
Families can also discuss the consequences of teenage drinking, which the movie touches on briefly.
- In theaters: June 26, 2009
- On DVD or streaming: November 17, 2009
- Cast: Abigail Breslin, Cameron Diaz, Jason Patric
- Director: Nick Cassavetes
- Studio: New Line
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 109 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: mature thematic content, some disturbing images, sensuality, language and brief teen drinking
- Last updated: March 14, 2020
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