my sister's keeper

After seeing Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, I thought nothing would ever cheer me up. So I figured I’d conclude a fine afternoon’s Theater Hopping Double Feature© by sneaking in to see My Sister’s Keeper, which could be alternately titled “that cancer girl movie where Cameron Diaz yells a lot.”

And My Sister’s Keeper is, indeed, that. Though that betrays the fact that it does a half decent job of accomplishing one of its goals (telling a coherent story), and an excellent job accomplishing the other (making ladies cry for an hour and 45 minutes).

The film centers on a girl dying of leukemia, and the trials her illness causes for her family, particularly her sister (Abigail Breslin), who was conceived in vitro as part of some mad scientist experiment to make spare parts for her ill sister (though the film only scratches the surface of examining just how fucked up that is). When Breslin grows tired of having no say in determining what happens to her own body, she sues her parents (Jason Patric and a “this is my serious face” Cameron Diaz) for medical emancipation. The film’s big twist reveals a master plan hidden under all the litigation.

My Sister’s Keeper is dark, lightened only by a few minutes of comic relief from smarmy lawyer Alec Baldwin, but it’s dark in the kind of way where you know everything will have some kind of positive resolution. Director Nick Cassavetes (chip off the old block, that guy) mines the uplifting moment out of every scene and bloated musical montage (the film actually has a scene scored with a down tempo version of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”).

Cassavetes, however, moves in line with the sensibilities of his core audience; I’m just not part of it. Despite a jumbled timeline, he manages to keep the story together, though perhaps with less emotional depth than he hoped for.

But, in some sense, that’s for the best. My Sister’s Keeper may make you cry, but it won’t make you feel. And that, I think, is just how its audience wants it.

Film: My Sister’s Keeper
Director: Nick Cassavetes
Stars: Cameron Diaz, Abigail Breslin, Jason Patric, Alec Baldwin, Sofia Vassilieva, Evan Ellingson

Viewing situation: Weekday matinee, small crowd; digital projection
My grade (out of 10): 4
Rotten Tomatoes average: 44%

Next up: Public Enemies

Summer Movie Suicide Mission ’09: Seeing them all, all summer long. Follow Summer Movie Suicide Mission on Twitter: @SMSM09. Check out the full list to date here.

In her review of the Ashton Kutcher/Cameron Diaz trifle What Happens in Vegas, Manohla Dargis of the New York Times had this to say:

[I]f you know anything about the art or have ever marveled at how even the most generic of old B movies look pretty good (they were usually in focus, for starters), you may wonder how a major studio like 20th Century Fox could release something this crudely manufactured, with its graceless setups, unstable lensing and ghastly lighting. It also makes you wonder if executives at studios look at dailies, much less can hear the poetry of the English language.

It’s a pretty damning statement, and at least half true. Most of the movie was in fact in focus, though there were certainly some technical missteps. The biggest problem with the film, as Dargis goes on to argue, was that it was made with a certain baseline, lowest common denominator audience in mind.

That strategy is pretty typical of the “blockbuster” comedy, and with the star wattage provided by Diaz and Kutcher, Vegas certainly qualifies as that. Mostly, this was 90-plus minutes of the stars mugging for the cameras with the same old relationship jokes about how men don’t like to put the toilet seat up. In fact, the whole “sharing a bathroom” conceit makes up at least 50 per cent of the Diaz/Kutcher relationship tussle the whole movie is built around.

I’ve pointed before to the whole idea that the summer blockbuster is predicated on casting the widest possible net for commercial appeal. And Vegas made an attempt to reach the “not brain dead” subsection of the audience by casting comedic ringers Rob Corddry, Lake Bell and Zach Galafianakis in supporting roles. Each of them are responsible for a few laughs, the only legitimate laughs in the whole film (though the final reconciliation scene where the two principals explain all the things they have learned about themselves provides plenty of unintentional comedy). Unfortunately the filmmakers also reached out to the “freakily conservative 9/11 reactionary” demographic by casting a never-more-annoying Dennis Miller as the judge who orders the leads to serve “six months hard marriage.” After squabbling over $3 million in gambling winnings procured after their drunken Las Vegas nuptials, Miller orders the money frozen until Kutcher and Diaz prove they’ve tried to make the marriage work. Enter an uncredited Queen Latifah as their court-ordered marriage counselor (reaching out to the subsection of the audience who believes Queen Latifah knows how to act). It’s a recipe for success. Cruel, cruel success.

All in all, What Happens in Vegas is a particularly disposable film. Unlike Speed Racer (which made just slightly more box office in its opening week than did Vegas), I had a hard time remembering any details to discuss in this post. Without the fast cars and explosions, these stupid movies start leaving my brain as soon as I leave my seat. Which is really for the best.

Film: What Happens in Vegas
Director: Tom Vaughan
Stars: Ashton Kutcher, Cameron Diaz, Rob Corddry, Lake Bell, Dennis Miller

Viewing Situation: Weekday matinee, 6 audience members; digital projection
Rotten Tomatoes Average: 29%
My Grade (Out of 10): 3

>> What Happens in Vegas (2008 ) – Review [New York Times]