Anna, a young girl, played by 12-year-old, Oscar-nominee Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine), is asked to give her sister Kate a kidney transplant, and Anna says no. Her parents force her, so she decides to sue them in court.
It's controversial, as it's revealed that the reason Anna was born was so that her parents could use Anna for blood, bone marrow, and even organ donation for their eldest daughter Kate. They learned early that Kate had leukemia.
The idea of parents sacrificing the livelihood of one child for another is a premise rich with drama. Watching a family deal with a child who has cancer, as well as watching the child herself deal with that cancer, are premises rich with even more drama. Yet, all of it here felt rather un-dramatic and phony.
I agree with critics like Ben Mankiewicz who believe that using those premises intentionally to try to make the audience cry is bad form. I first rejected that argument. What's wrong with a sad drama trying to make people sad? A comedy tries to make people laugh. A horror movie tries to make people afraid.
It's not until I saw this film that I realized that the best movies are ones that don't have to try to be what they are. They simply are what they are. They don't have to force emotions on people. Those emotions merely flow naturally. Mankiewicz called the film manipulative. With lighting, music, and certain camera angles, all movies are inherently manipulative, especially genre films. They try to get you to think or feel something, but it perhaps goes too far here.
The voice-over narrations were way too sappy. When the family goes to court, we're given audio commentary about the judge that's only about pulling at the heartstrings. Not pulling but hard yanking when it was totally too much!
There were an awful lot of vomiting scenes. Yes, this is a movie about cancer and the effects of treatment, such as chemotherapy. The fact that there was vomiting didn't bother me. The problem was the method of their photography. The lighting and look of each vomiting scene were way too beautiful.
It seemed odd to me that the depiction of something so ugly and harsh could be done in a manner that was soft and pretty. I understand that it was only consistent with the way the whole film was photographed, but, somehow, the contrast in those instances made the movie feel off and wrong.
The point was to show how there comes a time when you must face death, accept it and do what you can to celebrate life. The mother in this situation, Sara Fitzgerald, played by Cameron Diaz, can't face the death of her child. She refuses to accept it, despite impossible or immoral odds to the contrary. The mother of course is the only one. Everyone else becomes enlightened more easily. It's Sara's stubbornness that fuels the court case. That came to be too much after a while.
There are interesting moments, such as the parents being so consumed by Kate's cancer that they neglect their other kids. Their son, for example, comes home late and the parents don't even notice. Unfortunately, there aren't enough of these moments.
Kate is even able to find love in the cancer ward. She starts dating a boy who's also going through leukemia. His inevitable disappearance is devastating but I had predicted it two seconds after meeting him.
A couple of years ago, I saw a great documentary about childhood cancer called A Lion in the House. The honest depiction was so much more powerful than this. It didn't need special lighting setups during moments when kids were vomiting. It didn't need a contrived court case to accentuate points about accepting life and death. It didn't need a brief, forced teen romance to get the emotions felt. The emotions flowed naturally. It didn't have to force emotions. It simply was what it was.
Two Stars out of Five
Rated PG-13 for mature content, some disturbing images, sensuality, language, and brief teen drinking.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 49 mins.