Stars: ** 1/2
Rating: PG-13 for language, disturbing images and mature themes
Run Time: 1 hour, 46 minutes
Cameron Diaz sheds her ditzy girl image to get serious about life and death in this adaption of Jodi Picoult’s best-selling novel.
Diaz is Sara Fitzgerald, the take-no-prisoners mom of a tenacious teen who’s slowly dying of leukemia. But the focus isn’t on mom nor is it always on the patient herself (Sofia Vassilieva as Kate), an ethereal spirit whose showdown with death has grown her wise beyond her years.
The moral crux is Kate’s younger sister Anna (the ubiquitous Abigail Breslin), a petri-engineered “perfect match” who tires of her role as genetic savior to her big sis and files to become medically emancipated from her desperate parents in order to stop them from donating her kidney.
A sticky ethical dilemma that’s both timely and thought-provoking, though director Nick Cassavetes threatens to dilute its powerful message with conventional miscues – clumsy transitions, weepy background tunes, disjointed flashbacks and the maximum manipulation allowable for a three-hanky weeper.
While Anna battles for the rights to her own body with the help of ambulance chasing attorney cum TV huckster Campbell Alexander (Alec Baldwin) Diaz fights the good fight for Kate, never saying die (literally) while insisting on procedure after procedure that will ultimately save her daughter’s life. All at the expense of Anna, her dyslexic brother and resilient firefighting hubby Brian (Jason Patric).
It’s hard to turn a hard heart towards a youngster dying of cancer and there are sweet moments that play it right – in particular Kate’s first kiss with dreamy fellow patient Taylor Ambrose (Thomas Dekker). Structure is awkward to a fault, never settling on a comfortable thematic pattern.
Diaz is the real deal though she tries too hard to show it. Breslin is the consummate pro – lending poignant credibility to a persistent 11-year old who refuses to be used for spare parts -- and Joan Cusack is flat-out excellent as a conflicted judge who feels for both sides. Vassilieva has the hardest row to hoe as the emotional nucleus of a family at climatic crossroads and she works it.
Monotonous voice-overs attempt to explain and maintain a linear storyline but fails. By turns shameless and provocative, “Keeper” is a mawkish yet worthy enough addition to the summer line-up.