Meet Me in Montenegro


Taking that leap of faith.

Taking that leap of faith.

(2014) Romance (The Orchard) Alex Holdridge, Linnea Saasen, Rupert Friend, Jennifer Ulrich, Stuart Manashil, Mia Jacob, Ben Braun, Lena Ehlers, Kate Mackeson, Mathieu van den Berk, Deborah Ann Woll, Rod Ben Zeev, Ty Hodges, Reza Sixo Safai, Wayne Nickel, Victoria Johnston, Tomoko Nakasato, Max Pierangeli, Natalie Gelman, Brent Florence, Jules Amana, Twink Caplan. Directed by Alex Holdridge and Linnea Saasen

Romance in the age of social media is no easy proposition. Millennials have something of a cocoon around them; the anonymity of the Internet, the constant presence of electronic connection via cell phones and tablets, the somewhat impersonal mode of online dating – it’s a wonder that anyone hooks up at all.

Anderson (Holdridge) is an American screenwriter who has seen through the facade of traditional courtship and has declared that romance is dead, and from his own perspective he’s not wrong. He continues to obsess about Lina (Saasen), a Norwegian dancer he met on a trip to the Balkans with whom he had a torrid love affair, only to have her leave him a note “Let’s leave on a high note” on the beach without further explanation and thus she pirouettes out of his life.

Racking his brain as to what he might have done wrong to drive her away from him like that, his budding film career has stalled and he’s deep in credit card debt. He’s taking one last shot, this time making a science fiction film called Supercollider (an excellent name for a film by the way) and is meeting with an actor in Berlin who might be able to give him the cache needed to get the project made. He’s staying with friends Stephen (Friend), an English ex-pat whose attempt to start up a coffee shop ended up in failure, and his girlfriend Friederike (Ulrich) who is growing frustrated at Stephen’s chronic unemployment. Still, Stephen’s offhand suggestion that the two of them go to a sex club and have a four-some with another couple hasn’t fallen on deaf ears; to his horror, Friederike has called his bluff and is planning to take him up on the offer that very weekend, leaving an awkward shopping trip for Stephen and Anderson to find proper sexy attire for Stephen for the club.

While in Berlin, Anderson bumps into Lina who has been dancing in Berlin since the two broke up. He’s only there for a few days and she’s leaving herself to take up an artist residency in Budapest. They decide to spend some time together and in doing so, some of the old sparks begin to resurface. Anderson has a streak of self-sabotage in him and delivers one of the most unusual script pitches ever seen on film to the astonished actor; the rest of the weekend in Berlin would be a roller coaster ride of ups and downs. Will Anderson be able to rescue himself from crushing credit card debt and resurrect his career? More importantly, will his romance with Lina work out or is romance truly dead?

This isn’t your typical romance, which is definitely a good thing. Holdridge and Saasen have a natural chemistry together which makes their onscreen romance believable, job one for any romance, comedy or otherwise. I hesitated to label this a romantic comedy; while there are definitely some funny moments, this is more of a romantic dramedy slice of life thing, a glimpse into the inner workings of a relationship without getting either too cloying or too clinical. This is real love folks, circa 2015.

Holdridge has got the anti-romantic sad-sack writer role down pat. His smile is a bit wistful, revealing some of his inner torment and uncertainty; yet confronted with the perpetrator of his self-doubt he is perfectly willing to take the plunge once again (literally). At the opening of the film, we see him doing a cliff dive into the Baltic in the title town as he narrates “This was the last time I felt truly alive.” That’s some powerful motivation right there and it feels pretty natural as romance films go.

Berlin plays a central role in the film and it is a different side of the city that we get to see. Mostly we here in the States only see Berlin in spy thrillers; we’re used to the alleyways and abandoned buildings but this is a city where people actually live and we get a chance to peek in on their lives as well. Robert Murphy delivers some gorgeous cinematography, giving the city character but also the film as well; he’s a talent to keep an eye on definitely.

The movie’s ending is a bit cheesy, which is a shame because the rest of the story is actually mature as hell, a refreshing change from normal Hollywood romances in which the emotional range is somewhat limited and the story contrived. For most of the movie, this feels like lives truly lived in and that gives us more insight into the relationship than those that feel manufactured. Even certain indie romances suffer from an over-abundance of twee cliches but thankfully that’s not the case here.

I jotted down in my notebook that this is a bit of an anti-romance in many ways. There is some speechifyin’ about the nature of romance and the philosophy of love which gives what is in essence a rather simple and charming movie an occasionally unwelcome gloss. However, the good news is that this is a solid movie that occasionally rises above the tropes of its predecessors and gives us more real insight into modern love than many other movies with bigger budgets and better-known faces. If you’re looking for a nice romantic evening with that certain indie-loving someone, this might just be a meeting you’ll want to take.

REASONS TO GO: Holdridge has the sad-sack romantic down pat. Gorgeous cinematography.
REASONS TO STAY: Ending a bit hokey. Some pretentious pontificating.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s some mild language and sexual situations.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Holdridge and Saasen not only co-starred and co-directed the film but also co-wrote it based on their own experiences.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/10/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 57% positive reviews. Metacritic: 52/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Copenhagen
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Terminator: Genisys

The Lie (2011)


Your sins will find you out.

Your sins will find you out.

(2011) Drama (Screen Media) Joshua Leonard, Jess Wexler, Mark Webber, Alia Shawkat, Kelli Garner, James Ransone, Jane Adams, Kirk Baltz, Gerry Bednob, Matthew Newton, Holly Woodlawn, Tipper Newton, Kandice Melonakos, Germaine Mozel Sims, Michael McColl, Gwyn Fawcett. Directed by Joshua Leonard

I was once told as a young man by a mentor that being young was easy; everything is simple – black or white, right or wrong, bad or good. There is no middle ground in youth, he told me, no grey areas. Accountability and responsibility are notions that don’t apply to the young. Sooner or later however, we all have to grow up whether we want to or not.

Lonnie (Leonard) is reaching a crossroads in his life. He and his wife Clover (Wexler) have just had a baby and their life of activism and living by their own rules has been turned on its ear as their idealism collides with the realities of raising a baby – particularly in regards to the expense. Clover is considering a job at a pharmaceutical company that as far as Lonnie is concerned is the anti-Christ but whose benefits will make the job of raising their new addition feasible.

But Lonnie, stuck in a job he hates, isn’t on board with this. He’s a hippie in an age of consumerism and in a different age would have found a commune to hang out in with his family. Lonnie is in a crisis and he needs a day off to clear his head, so he just tells his overbearing boss (Bednob) that his baby is sick. Lonnie, now free of any responsibility, gets hammered with his best friend Tank (Webber), smokes a lot of weed and records some really bad rock and roll in Tank’s trailer.

It turns out so well that Lonnie takes another day and another day and another – until he can’t use that fib anymore so in a fit of panic he blurts out that the baby died. Suddenly the little white lie isn’t so white and isn’t so little anymore. This is one he can’t walk away from and one that sooner or later he’ll have to face the consequences for.

Based on a short story by T.C. Boyle, the movie ostensibly debates the question of whether it is okay to compromise one’s principles in order to survive, although that really isn’t it at all. It’s a question of whether one’s responsibility to family outweighs a lifestyle choice.

Leonard, whom most will remember from The Blair Witch Project, is generally a fairly charming onscreen personality and there are elements of that here too, but one wonders about the underlying story going on with the character. Lonnie talks a good game about discovering who he is, but from his actions he appears to be a stoner and a slacker who just wants to get wasted and do whatever makes him feel good. In other words, a selfish prick.

Wexler, who was so delightful in Free Samples, is the polar opposite. She has a baby to consider and the realities of life in Southern California staring her in the face. She realizes that it is time to grow up and make sacrifices, which is why she considers a job at the Big Pharma company. Her moments to shine come towards the end of the movie when the truth inevitably comes out, but sadly, her character (who may go down in cinematic history as the most understanding woman ever) reacts in a way that is counterintuitive to who she seems to be all along.

Webber, as the stoner best friend, provides a lot of the comic relief but also a lot of the film’s center strangely enough. “Dude,” he tells Lonnie in a kind of ironic coda, “You’ve got to stop running away from shit.” Which is, of course, precisely what Lonnie does and the filmmakers seem to embrace that as a viable alternative to, you know, life.

I was once the age that Lonnie is and I will grant him that things are different now than they were then but FFS you’re a dad, you’ve got to man up and grow a pair. One of the things that disturbs me about what I see in the current generation is that there seems to be an unwillingness to sacrifice for the greater good – that self-gratification is the be all and end all of existence. Now I am willing to concede that much of that is simply the flaw of youth and that it’s possible that experience and wisdom will counteract it but I don’t recall ever seeing this self-centeredness to this degree in any generation before. Wow, I sound like my own Dad, don’t I?

The point is that the movie seems to take the point of view that it is more important to be true to one’s own needs whether they are selfish or not than to be responsible for the life that one brings into this world and I simply can’t agree with that point of view – which is why I hate the ending so much because it hints that is precisely what the filmmakers think. Perhaps it is old-fashioned of me but I can’t recommend a movie that condones self-interest over responsibility. If you’re comfortable with that, you are more than welcome to seek this movie out and draw your own conclusions.

WHY RENT THIS: Examines the age old question of freedom vs. responsibility. Wexler and Webber are magnificent.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Can’t get behind a film that preaches accountability and celebrates that its lead character has none. The ending is absolutely mind-numbing.

FAMILY VALUES: A fair amount of foul language and some drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film’s official website gives visitors an opportunity to confess about a lie they’ve told which has been taken up by a number of people including at least one cast member.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $3,000 on an unreported production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Be Good

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: The Good Heart

Fin


            The chum floated on the surface of the water, lovely red in a sea of grey-green. The salty smell of the fish blood and chunks of flesh excited the senses of the predator swimming in the cool green depths. His senses so acute, he could taste the blood in the water from nearly a mile away. With powerful thrusts of his tail and flukes, he moved through the water like a rocket, intent on his prey.

            Tara tied her bikini top and adjusted it. Her pink nipples and aureole peered out. It wouldn’t do to have those in public view, although she’d been known to allow an occasional nip slip from time to time to keep the boys firmly in the palm of her hand. Tara was a bit of a closet exhibitionist in some ways.

            She was also a total beach babe. Her blonde hair and blue eyes gave her an almost Nordic cast, but the tan of her skin was pure California. Even though it was overcast and grey out, she wanted to take a nice swim. It was part of her regimen; keeping fit was important and a daily three mile swim in the nearby waters were part of keeping her fit and trim. She enjoyed the attention of boys more than most.

            She smiled to herself as she looked around her apartment at the wreckage from last night. She’d picked him up in a local bar, an English lad who said football when he meant soccer and that was his passion. She’d taken him home and found him pleasantly aggressive in the bed – not that they’d limited their passions to the bedroom. No, he’d had her on the couch, on the living room floor, in the bathroom as well as in the bed. Truth be told, she was sore down there today – a pleasant, lovely throbbing ache that reminded her of the pleasures of last night.

            He had left shortly before dawn, giving her one last fuck before heading back to his house. He promised to call her later and she kind of hoped he would; she hadn’t had sex that good for awhile and Tara liked sex even when it wasn’t good. As she brushed her hair and tied it in a ponytail behind her, she saw in the reflection of her mirror the bed, stained and rumpled from last night’s activities. She felt a pleasant shiver in between her legs as she remembered the feelings of her lad inside her. She couldn’t stop smiling.

            She pulled out a pair of cutoff jeans and a t-shirt, then sat on the bed and fished out her flip flops. She could still smell him on the pillows. Her grin widened. Life was damn good when you’re hot, blonde and strong.

            She grabbed a clean beach towel and stuffed it in her beach bag, along with her sun screen, a tube of Chapstick, a bottle of water and the book she was reading, something by John Grisham. She grabbed her keys and a couple of granola bars in case she wanted to snack while she was sunning and threw them in the bag; as she walked out she remembered one last thing and grabbed it, throwing it in the bag before heading out the door.

            In her little Jetta convertible, she grabbed her sunglasses from the glove compartment and put them on even though it was cloudy. Starting her car, she grabbed a CD of pop tunes and stuck it in the player before roaring out of the apartment parking lot. She drove with the top down and the CD player blaring high energy rock tunes with which she sang loudly. It was early on a Sunday morning and there were few people about which suited Tara just fine. She liked to get her swim in before the beach got too crowded; when there were guys about, she wanted to be tanning, not out in the water concentrating on her swim.

            The beach was only a ten minute drive from her apartment and the parking lot was empty as she pulled in to her usual spot. She was still humming the tune she’d been singing as she shut the engine off and grabbed her things. Locking the car door behind her, she walked towards her favorite spot on the beach, near the lifeguard station, close to the water but not so close that she didn’t get the benefit of traffic. Even though it was overcast and a bit chilly for this time of year, it was supposed to warm up later on in the morning. Perfect.

            She set down her bag and pulled out her towel, laying it down on the sand and using her sandals to anchor it down. She felt the sea breeze hitting her legs and as it always did, it felt glorious. She quickly stripped off her t-shirt and cutoffs and dropped them in her beach bag. Her drying towel was in there; she made a mental note that she needed to do laundry today when she got home, as she was running low on towels but then going to the beach nearly every day will do that to you.

            She took off the sunglasses and tossed them in the beach bag. She spent a few moments stretching, limbering up for her morning swim. She was an impressive sight in her blue bikini, her body fit and tan. She would have turned a few heads were there any around to turn. Even the lifeguards hadn’t gotten in yet which was fine; the one that had been here lately was a douchebag. He just stared at her with eyes that were predatory; she was sure he would rape her if he got her in a dark alley. Not that she was above having sex with a lifeguard – she’d had a steamy little affair with Justin, the guy who had worked here most of the summer but Eric, the new guy, he wasn’t nearly as cute as Justin so it would have to be rape if he wanted to get into her panties.

            She giggled at herself. What a strange thought. Maybe she was off the market anyway. Jamie, her English lad, had a lot of possibilities. Maybe he would be the one who finally made an honest woman of her. If the sex continued to be like it was last night, he might be the only man on Earth able to satisfy her. She chuckled to herself. When did I become such a slut? she thought to herself, smiling. She was one of those women who enjoyed sex and didn’t care if people thought she was a slut for it. If we weren’t supposed to have sex, she told her girlfriends at the bar just last night, why did it feel so goddamn good?

            She finished stretching and trotted towards the water. The water was cold in the morning but she didn’t mind; it was invigorating not to mention refreshing. Her nipples immediately hardened, a pleasant sensation. She splashed out into the water until she was thigh deep and then started her swim.

            She liked the solitude of her morning swim. It gave her a chance to clear her head and just enjoy the physical sensations of her exertions. She could easily go to the gym (and when the weather was bad, that’s what she did) but she disliked the crowds and guys hitting on her when she was trying to work out. Here, nobody bothered her – this particular beach was almost always deserted until about 10am, two hours from now. Her swim usually took her about an hour as she would go out to the buoy and back, then repeat. Justin had told her that the buoy was about three quarters of a mile out, so two laps would take her three miles which was plenty of workout for her.

            She swam with slow, easy strokes, not in any particular hurry. Tara wasn’t about speed; she just wanted to enjoy her swim. She had powerful legs; years of dancing and rollerblading had given her that. She kicked strongly and as she looked back she saw the beach moving further and further away in her view. The current was a little strong but nothing she couldn’t handle.

            The predator had a sense of things and he knew that the other thing floating in the water by the chum was danger. He saw the other predators in the area feeding on the blood and sensed them suddenly thrash in pain and fear as they were attacked from above. He moved well away from the trap until he sensed something else; something in the water splashing not far away. Instantly he turned and swam away.

            She saw the buoy and realized she was a little off course. She righted herself and swam towards it, grabbing hold of it for a moment, catching her breath before shoving off of it and heading back to the beach. She continued to cut through the water, feeling the cool waters envelop her. She felt a little like the mermaid she longed to be as a little girl. She smiled inwardly; she wondered what Ariel would have thought of her activities last night. She giggled to herself as she soon reached the shore. Again she paused, catching her breath yet again before setting off on her final lap towards the buoy.

            Before she was even halfway there she realized it was a mistake. The current had grown much stronger now, and it was difficult going. She was kicking harder, paddling to near-exhaustion just to stay more or less in the same place. She realized that she was being pulled out to sea. She reached out for the buoy but the current had already pulled her past it. She screamed for help, hopelessly; she knew even as she did there was nobody to hear her.

            She hadn’t been in a rip current before but she knew the worst thing she could do was panic. She took a deep breath. She tried to organize her thoughts. What to do…if she continued to fight the current she’d be exhausted in a matter of minutes, then she’d be in real trouble. Tara had no illusions that help would come for her. She knew she had to get out of this situation herself.

            Then she remembered. Swim parallel to the shore until she escaped the current. She began to do that. Elsinore Beach was just a bit up the coast and there were surfers there…lifeguards. She began paddling in that direction. She was making some progress but she was already tired and she found she was splashing much more than usual. She had to keep her focus!

            The predator was much closer now and realized that the splashing thing was not a seal or a fish. It was something else entirely. If it had been able to smile, it would have; it recognized the scent of panic and the scent of blood. It was like a marine missile, aimed straight at the splashing entity. It recognized the smell of it in the water. It had eaten meat like this before.

            Tara’s muscles hurt and she felt like there were weights tied to her wrists and ankles. She felt tears leaking from her eyes but she gave herself a mental kick in the ass. Stop feeling sorry for yourself, she thought, Just keep your head and you’ll get out of this. Doggedly, she started swimming harder, knowing that sooner or later she’d get past this rip current and be able to swim safely ashore.

            She was a good mile and a half offshore when she felt the resistance of the current lessen. Relief flooded through Tara as she began to aim back towards the shore. Hope renewed her strength and she began swimming harder. It would all be over soon.

            She felt something bump up against her and wondered if some inquisitive fish had checked her out. She smiled at that. Must have been a boy fish. She could see the shore getting closer and closer and she thought she could make out some human figures on it.

            The pain shot through her like nothing she’d ever experienced. She screamed at the top of her lungs, agony coursing through her. The water turned red around her. “What…what’s….what’s happening?” she stammered. She looked around wildly for some clue as to what happened but she couldn’t see a thing. She began swimming again for shore but for some reason she couldn’t move her legs.

            It erupted out of the water, the predator and grabbed Tara by her abdomen. Her wails of fear and pain were the last sounds she’d ever make as she was dragged under the water by the shark that the authorities up and down the coast were chasing after having attacked four other swimmers in the past month. She struggled to escape the jaws of the predator but it was too strong and Tara too weak from both the swim and the loss of blood to put up much of a fight. The blood clouded the water as darkness took her.

********************************************************************************************************************

             Eric walked towards the lifeguard station carrying a cooler with his lunch and a couple of beers. Might as well enjoy himself if he had to hang out all day in this shithole of a beach. He noticed a towel, beach bag and some clothes strewn on the sand near his station. He looked up and down the beach but there was nobody on the sand and nobody in the water. He looked back to the parking lot and saw a small convertible parked there not far from his own Mustang.

            Stupid chick must have gone home and fucked some guy and forgotten her stuff. Well, he’d put it in the station on the off chance she’d return. She’d left her car there after all. Still, wouldn’t hurt to check the bag to see if there was some cash in there. He can always say someone else must have stolen it.

            Sunscreen. A book. Keys. Granola bars. A plastic water bottle. Another towel. And a tampon. Ewwwww! Eric chucked the tampon back into the bag. Stupid slut. No cash. He tossed the bag in a corner of the lifeguard station and forgot about it even before it landed with a thud that sounded to his ears final.

            He put up the rip current flag and made sure the sign was up warning people out of the water, then settled back in his chair and waited for the crowds to come. Lots of babes in bikinis, all of them thrilled out of their minds to talk with a stud lifeguard like him. Life is damned good when you’re young, hot and strong.

Drillbit Taylor


Drillbit Taylor

It's Owen Wilson vs. the world.

(Paramount) Owen Wilson, Leslie Mann, Danny McBride, Josh Peck, David Dorfman, Alex Frost, Troy Gentile, Nate Hartley, Stephen Root, Lisa Lampanelli, David Koechner. Directed by Steve Brill

Sometimes standing up for yourself is a lot harder than it looks. Once in awhile, in order to stand up you need someone there to help you get off your knees.

Skinny Wade (Hartley), portly Ryan (Gentile) and nerdy Emmett (Dorfman) are all being picked on by a school bully, Filkins (Frost) who is psychotic enough to give Freddie Krueger nightmares. Despite their best efforts the hazing continues so they do what any sensible children of rich parents do; place an advertisement for a bodyguard.

They have to wade through a list of candidates that range from the unsuitable to the downright bizarre before they get the right guy. Who they get is Drillbit Taylor (Wilson), a homeless ex-Army ranger who has something of a Zen style of self-defense and for someone who is supposed to be lethal is awfully laid-back. After his attempts to instruct them in self-defense go hideously wrong, he decides that he needs to take a more direct hand in their protection; by taking a position as a substitute teacher in their school.

Things go really well for awhile, with Drillbit striking up a romance with comely English teacher Lisa (Mann) and the boys finally getting some relief from the constant harassment. Unfortunately, Drillbit’s secret comes out – he’s not discharged Army, he’s a deserter – and that his homeless buddies, led by Don (McBride) see his arrangement as more or less an invitation to rob the homes of his “clients.”

Humiliated and disgraced, Drillbit gets ready to leave for Canada, something that he’s always wanted to do but never been able to afford to. However, his charges are now back in miserable Hell, getting seriously beaten at every turn. Will he turn his back on them and run, as he’s always done? Or will he stand up for his new friends? Better still, will they stand up for themselves?

This is yet another comedy from the factory that is Judd Apatow, who produced this; his buddy, Seth Rogen co-wrote it. Usually you expect an Apatow movie to veer off course into something original but that really didn’t happen here.

Instead you have a bit of a mess. The jokes aren’t really funny although in all honesty, I’m not sure there’s a whole lot of humor to be had in kids getting bullied. What saves this movie from complete and abject suckiness is Owen Wilson. He’s one of the most dependable comic actors working today, and even though he’s been in a lot of turkeys lately, he is usually the best thing in them and that is no less true here. He’s totally miscast – can you imagine Owen Wilson kicking anybody’s ass? – but he manages to infuse the part with his laidback charm, enough so that you are thoroughly engaged by his character even if you don’t quite believe him.

The three juvenile leads are more or less cheap-ass knockoffs from Superbad nearly down to a “T” (Rogen also co-wrote that movie) which may or may not have been intentional. Personally, I can’t say for sure. They are decent in this movie, but they don’t really stand out.

I can’t really say why I didn’t like this movie – oh wait, sure I can. For one thing, the jokes didn’t really work for me. For another, I didn’t connect with most of the characters the way I wanted to. Even Drillbit Taylor, the lead role, in the end fell kind of flat for me. The movie’s pretty disingenuous – there’s nothing particularly threatening about it – but a good comedy needs a little bit of edge, and this just doesn’t have a single one. In fact, it’s like a big ol’ beach ball on a beach full of razors; you just know the outcome isn’t going to be very pleasant for the beach ball.

WHY RENT THIS: Wilson has a certain off-beat charm to him and the movie is generally harmless.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: An attempt to make a John Hughes-style movie falls flat and it isn’t really funny enough for modern comedy audiences.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some crude jokes (mostly sexual) and some fairly raw depictions of bullying, as well as a bit of partial nudity. Okay for older teens but I’d hesitate before letting the younger kids watch this.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: A friend of Apatow’s gave him an unfinished script treatment by the late John Hughes which Apatow gave to writers Seth Rogen and Kristofor Brown to build a script off of.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Funny People

My Sister’s Keeper


My Sister's Keeper

It's an awkward moment as Cameron Diaz asks Alec Baldwin about any openings on 30 Rock.

(New Line) Cameron Diaz, Abigail Breslin, Alec Baldwin, Jason Patric, Joan Cusack, Sofia Vassilieva, Evan Ellingson, Emily Deschanel, Thomas Dekker. Directed by Nick Cassavetes

As parents, part of our job is to protect our children. It is a given that we will do anything – absolutely, positively anything – to keep our child safe from harm. When we are helpless to do so – as in the case of a terrible disease for example – our fight takes on a different tone.

At first glance the Fitzgerald family seems nearly perfect. Dad Brian (Patric) is a fire chief, while mom Sara (Diaz) is a top-notch lawyer. They have three great kids; Kate (Vassilieva), Jesse (Ellingson) and Anna (Breslin).

“Nearly” can be a very important word, however. Kate is suffering from a particularly dreadful and aggressive strain of leukemia. As a matter of fact, most kids who have it don’t live past the age of five. However, Sara is willing to do anything to keep her daughter alive. That includes having another child, fertilized in vitro, to supply Kate with bone marrow, blood and other spare parts to keep her alive.

The plan works, although it’s far from perfect; Anna (the test tube baby) is subjected to frequent and often painful hospital procedures in order to procure whatever it is that Kate needs to continue to live. She’s a teenager now, and the disease has reared its ugly head again and this time it’s going to take more than a blood transfusion or bone marrow; Kate’s kidney has shut down and she needs a new one to survive.

Normally she’d go to the spare parts store that is her sister, but Anna has had enough. She realizes the consequences of having only one functioning kidney and it means the end to any sort of normal life that she might want to lead. She engages the services of a lawyer, the kind that advertises on bus benches and late night TV. His name is Campbell Alexander (Baldwin) and after some deliberation, decides to accept her suit for medical emancipation from her parents.

Sara is no slouch as a lawyer and prepares her own defense, but as the case drags on, Kate grows weaker and weaker and the case tears the family apart. Is Anna turning her back on her sister or is she just reaching for the only chance at a normal life she may ever have?

This is a movie that raises some interesting, fundamental questions and to its credit, gives the viewer much room for thought. The unfortunate part is that it wraps the compelling concepts in so many tearjerker clichés that after awhile what might have been a fresh take on a difficult subject seems very formula and rote.

There is some fine acting going on here. Breslin is in my opinion the best child actor in Hollywood at the moment, having dethroned Dakota Fanning who is in the teen actress realm now. She plays Anna as terribly conflicted but intensely driven. Her Anna is much more like her mother than her mother would care to admit, and rather than showing the common traits in the same way that Cameron Diaz shows them instead gives them her own take.

Baldwin, who is as hot as anyone in Hollywood at the moment, is also superb as the quirky lawyer who has a bit of a prima donna in him. He’s self-deprecating and the part is so solidly in Baldwin’s wheelhouse that you can’t imagine any other actor in the role.

Diaz is not normally someone I’d turn to for her acting chops, but she delivers here. She does chew the scenery a little bit but just a little bit. The mother is a bit of a shrew and more than a little of a control freak, but there is a fierce love for her child that is so consuming that it nearly blocks her other children out entirely. It’s not an unusual situation in families, and it’s played out here quite naturally.

There are some nice turns. The hospital romance between Kate and another cancer patient (Dekker) provides the movie with some of its sweetest moments, although the outcome is somewhat predictable. Joan Cusack plays the judge who has some empathy for Kate, but much more wisdom than the tunnel visionary mom.

There is also an unnecessary third child who I guess is in the movie to illustrate Sara’s complete focus on her one sick daughter at the expense of her other children. He is usually onscreen accompanied by melancholy folk music; it gets a bit distracting, to be honest.

Still, the movie is strong enough for me to recommend. I know that it is fashionable for critics to snipe about movies that manipulate emotionally, but I find that hypocritical; all movies are manipulative in one form or another; these tearjerkers are just upfront about it. If the manipulation is done well and brings me a bit of catharsis, I consider it a job well done and so I can recommend My Sister’s Keeper on that basis. If you are in need of a good cry, by all means your ship has arrived.

WHY RENT THIS: For those in need of a cathartic release, this is the movie to see. Breslin again shows she is the best child actor in Hollywood.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: At times, the movie sinks unnecessarily into maudlin cliché.

FAMILY VALUES: The topic is very mature and certainly will upset children who may not understand the dynamics of what’s going on; the frank depiction of the disease and its consequences will also be difficult for the sensitive. Parents should also be aware there are some scenes of teen drinking and sexuality as well.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The part of Kate was originally offered to Dakota Fanning, with her sister Elle to be cast as Anna; however, Dakota reportedly balked at shaving her head for the role, so both sisters bowed out of the production.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Valkyrie