Saturday, 4 July 2009

Misery business

I have always had a somewhat uneasy relationship with book-to-film adaptations. I'm a massive bookworm, so it's perhaps little surprise that I find myself unable to 'let go' of a book I love and take in a film adaptation on its own merit. I was quite excited, though, when I found out there was going to be a film of Jodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper; I really did think that it could make an interesting premise for a film.

Ah, if only that heady optimism could have carried into the film itself. Within 10 minutes of the opening credits, I had seen young Kate with a profusely bleeding nose and vomiting blood, and had realised that this was very much not the film for me. I didn't want to be there; I continued not wanting to be there for the remaining 100 minutes until the end credits rolled and someone sat behind me turned to the person beside them and said: "I feel emotionally violated."

It's petty to spin the classic "but it wasn't faithful to the book" line, and indeed, much of the film is faithful to the book. One sister (Kate) has cancer and needs a kidney to save her life. Other sister (Anna) doesn't want to give up her kidney and so sues for medical emancipation. Court case, etc. But the book is very much focussed on said court case. The film is very much focussed on said cancer. I've heard My Sister's Keeper described as 'thought-provoking', but a more accurate phrase might be something to the gist of 'rape of the tear ducts'.

You'll probably cry. But you'll also resent those tears, as you will understand, even as they are being shed, how cynically and calculatedly they have been wrung from your eyes. Misery business indeed. Cancer isn't pretty, and the film doesn't shy from that - but my, it's certainly an unrelenting torrent of cinematic misery. I counted one joke; it was about cancer. There's a fragmentary feel at play, with lots of 'fade to black' moments, but nobody could accuse My Sister's Keeper of ever straying from its goal - it sets out early on its target of tears, and shamelessly and repeatedly goes in directly for the kill.

I was hoping that Abigail Breslin (Anna), after her amusingly sweet performance in Little Miss Sunshine, would at least ensure this would be to my taste, but she had a hopeless task ahead of her - rather than sprinkling sugar, the script pours on syrup. You almost wish that Kate would hurry up and get on with it - and yes, that does make you a bad person.

I've always denounced the Hollywood tradition of neatly tying up tales from books and tarting them up a bit in the cheerfulness stakes. This certainly bucked the trend, and I wished to God it hadn't. That's me shown, then.

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