June 26, 2009 at 04:00 AM EDT

My Sister's Keeper

Current Status
In Season
103 minutes
Wide Release Date
Abigail Breslin, Cameron Diaz, Jason Patric
Nick Cassavetes
Nick Cassavetes, Jeremy Leven
We gave it a C+

Judging from the snuffling heard around me and the spontaneous production of my own cheap tears, My Sister’s Keeper does exactly what it’s supposed to do: The sinus-clearing movie makes us feel luxuriously sad that, despite the love of attractive families and the best medical care, some kids get cancer.

But because we live in a post-St. Elsewhere world of plot-enhancing ethical complications, this particular luxuriously sad story, based on a best-selling novel by skilled tear-wrencher Jodi Picoult, isn’t content with the simple challenges of life-threatening illness. While the sick teen girl, Kate (Medium‘s Sofia Vassilieva), is a beaming beacon of bald-headed grace, the spotlight belongs to her younger sister, Anna (Abigail Breslin). Anna was genetically engineered and conceived by her parents (Cameron Diaz and Jason Patric) to supply spare parts to her ailing older sibling. And now Anna wants to sue for medical emancipation because, she says, she’s tired of being a human pin cushion. Alec Baldwin adapts his sitcommy 30 Rock persona only slightly to play her showboating lawyer.

Picoult’s fans are treated to a fair dose of the author’s page-turning stuff, including a subplot about Kate’s chaste cancer-ward romance. The extra cinematic shine, meanwhile, is the specialty of director Nick Cassavetes and screenwriter Jeremy Leven, who painted and plastered over literary mush in The Notebook. Their message in My Sister’s Keeper? Cancer sucks, but there’s always the balm of beach scenes and an emo soundtrack. C+

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