This film – based on the best selling book by Jodi Picoult – starts as an exploration of the ethics of organ-donation and genetic selection, but rapidly disintegrates into a sloppy, unstructured, tear-jerking mess – unclear about who’s story is being told or indeed what the point is. The screen adaptation by Jeremy Leven is the source of much of the problem, but director Nick Cassavetes (who collaborated with Leven on a previous tear jerker, The Notebook) aids and abets, making much of the story feel contrived and manipulated.
Opening with a voice-over, we learn that 11 year-old Anna (Abigail Breslin) was a designed baby, born with the right genetic make-up to help save the life of her older sister Kate (Sofia Vassilieva) who was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of two. Behind the difficult decision to use Anna as a source of bone-marrow, stem-cells and body parts for Kate, is the girls’ driven mother Sara (Cameron Diaz) who has sacrificed everything to try and save Kate from dying. But as Kate’s condition deteriorates and another operation looks likely, Anna approaches lawyer Campbell Alexander (Alec Baldwin) to sue her parents for the right to her own body.
Flipping back and forth in time as various members of the family share their perspective on things, the film lingers for a long time far from its starting point – taking the shape of a love story as Kate recalls better days and a brief romantic encounter with a patient named Taylor (Thomas Dekker).
There are tender and beautiful moments threaded throughout the film, but as a whole it is a deeply flawed work – neither credibly exploring the legal and ethical tensions that should surely have been the focus of this story, nor dealing – in anything other than the most melodramatically saccharine way – with a family facing the death of a child. Breslin and Vassilieva are brave and credible as the two sisters, but Cameron Diaz is woefully under-directed and can only give us a histrionic, one-dimensional mother.
The film is shot in a permanent haze of soft golden light and features several slow-motion montages accompanied by sentimental songs like Edwina Hayes’ Feels Like Home and Vega 4’s Life is Beautiful.
For those fans of the novel, you may want to heed the frustrated cry that I heard from the back of the cinema as the credits rolled: “that was nothing like the book!”