Starring: Cameron Diaz, Sofia Vassilieva, Abigail Breslin
Directed by: Nick Cassavetes (“The Notebook”)
Written by: Nick Cassavetes (“Alpha Dog”) and Jeremy Leven (“Alex and Emma”)

There’s so much negative connotation when a film is referred to as a Lifetime Movie of the Week. Typically, this signifies the movie is cliché, overacted, and sappy and usually about spousal abuse or someone dying of a mysterious disease or someone fighting an addiction. But in the entire history of the Lifetime Channel, isn’t it possible that at least one of those dramas was actually watchable to more than the female demographic it caters to?

“My Sister’s Keeper” isn’t a Movie of the Week, but if it were it would be that unmentioned tear-jerker that is the exception to the TV-movie rule. Although it tries to slide into that position in the final act, director/writer Nick Cassavetes (“The Notebook”) and the entire cast create a poignant foundation where family thresholds are tested with life and death scenarios.

Based on the best-selling book of the same name by Jodi Picoult, “My Sister’s Keeper” tells the story of the Fitzgerald family, who are waiting helplessly as their oldest child, Kate (Sofia Vassilieva), slowly dies of leukemia. Through nonlinear storytelling, we watch parents Sara and Brian (Cameron Diaz and Jason Patric) faced with a decision to have another child (Abigail Breslin) so that later in life when their sick daughter needs a new kidney, a carefully customized baby with the same chromosomal makeup would be available. Along with an inevitable surgery, their engineered daughter, Andromeda (did they really have to make her name sound so sci-fi?), would also be used to collect blood cells and bone marrow to keep her older sister alive.

But by the age of 11, Andromeda doesn’t want to be a lab rat anymore. When Kate finally needs a kidney transplant, the family is shocked when Andromeda hires a high-profile lawyer (Alec Baldwin) and sues her parents for “medical emancipation,” which means she can’t be forced to give her kidney to her sister.

Of course, this splits the family down the center and forces them into court. Sara, who was a lawyer before she stopped practicing to care for Kate, is beyond disbelief because her own daughter would allow her sister to die. Compassionate father Brian, sees both sides of the argument. What kind of life would Andromeda lead if the transplant wasn’t a success?

It an ethical mindbender as the family waits as Kate becomes sicker. “I don’t mind my disease killing me,” Kate says, “but it’s killing my family, too.” While it would have been easily to let the sentimentality wander all over the place, Cassavetes stays focused on the issue at hand and allows his characters to work their way through these scenes organically.

With some effective performances by all the women – Diaz, Vassilieva, Breslin, and Joan Cusack as the judge hearing the case who is going through her own tragedy – the film is touching on many levels despite unnecessarily dabbling in melodramatic tone. When only the heart of the matter is at the forefront, “My Sister’s Keeper” is a moving piece.

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