Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch:
‘Sister’s Keeper’ a ‘no-holds-barred cancer weepie’; Huston’s ‘Wise Blood’ a fine DVD

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the July 30, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)

Movie Review

My Sister’s Keeper. The film, by director Nick Cassavetes (The Notebook), is based on a 2004 bestseller of the same name by Jodi Picoult.

My Sister’s Keeper is one of those films that is like a glass half-full. You can see either its strengths or weaknesses and come up with your conclusion. The film is definitely what might be called a no-holds-barred cancer weepie with a few too many throw-up scenes. But on the other hand, it takes a moral dilemma and looks at both sides within its story of two young sisters’ love and care for each other.

The oldest child of Sara Fitzgerald (Cameron Diaz) has suffered from leukemia from a very young age. Her Dad (Jason Patric) and Sara decided early on to have another child that would have the right blood and organs to be a “donor” child for her sister. Kate Fitzgerald is the older child, brilliantly played by Sofia Vassilieva. Her younger sister, Anna, is the wonderful Abigail Breslin, who was so charming in Little Miss Sunshine. A rather neglected brother, Taylor, is played by Thomas Dekker.

The story initially is told from the different characters’ points of view. When asked to give her sister a kidney, Anna goes to a lawyer, Campbell Alexander (Alec Baldwin), to ask the court to prevent her from continuing to provide blood and now a kidney to her sister.

The movie does pull out lots of emotion. The judge in the case, played by Joan Cusack, has recently lost a child in a terrible accident. We learn eventually why Anna’s lawyer always has a service dog with him. Anna continues to live with her family and faces her mother’s anger because she so wants to prevent the death of her oldest daughter at any cost. Anna’s father and brother seem to have some understanding of why Anna is doing what she is doing.

The film has a teen romance between Kate and another cancer patient at her hospital.

My Sister’s Keeper is a film where the acting is first-rate, but some will have trouble with the relentless pulling out of all the emotional stops. The music adds to the heavy emphasis on sentiment.

Cameron Diaz is particularly strong in her unsympathetic role. The film makes fine use of the southern California and Montana locations. For some, My Sister’s Keeper will be a powerful film.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates My Sister’s Keeper PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). The film has a mature theme and some sensuality and language issues. The Office of Film and Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops rates the film L-Limited – limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling.

DVD Review

This spring the Criterion DVD Collection released the 1979 film of Flannery O’Connor’s novel Wise Blood, directed by the great John Huston. Criterion Collection DVD’s are priced on the high end. This film is listed at $39.95. But the film, available from Netflix, also may well be available on interlibrary loan.

Wise Blood is a dark tale with humorous overtones that is about the redemption of a character who is reacting to his past. He returns to the South in the late ’40s as a veteran. There he fiercely preaches from corners and car tops of the “Church of Christ without Christ.” The ending of the film that implies redemption is more than tragic.

Benedict and Michael Fitzgerald’s screenplay does justice to the novel, though with some changes that may make the story more clear. Their parents were close friends of Flannery O’Connor and much of the novel Wise Blood was written in a guest house at their home in Connecticut when they were children. For the Fitzgerald family this film was indeed a labor of love. They were able to get John Huston to direct the film at a cost of around $900,000 in the dollars of the late ’70s.

Brad Dourif, who gained fame in the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and more recently playing the doctor in the HBO series Deadwood, plays the key role of Hazel Motes with intensity. O’Connor does play with names. Hazel is an eye color and Jesus spoke of the mote in one’s eye. So from the beginning there is a hint of what is to come.

Motes goes to a large city in the South where he arrives by steam engine train. The movie team purposely mixed the time with cars from the 1960s and ’70s in a story that had originally been set at mid-century in the book, so that we are not quite sure when the story is set.

In the large city (the film was shot in Macon, Ga.), Motes meets a group of unique people, from a prostitute, to a zoo keeper, to a fake blind preacher with his daughter who seeks to seduce Motes, and many more, including a fake gorilla that runs through the city scaring people.

There is a murder and a very strange conversion to God that involves very heavy-duty penances.

Harry Dean Stanton plays the supposedly blind preacher. Ned Beatty is another preacher who is out for the dollars he can con on the street corners. Amy Wright is Sabbath Lily, the young woman with eyes for Hazel Motes.

I must admit I don’t find myself laughing much in either reading or viewing Wise Blood, but I’m told that when the film was first released, Southerners found it very funny.

Huston made the film because as an atheist he thought it was making a mockery of all religion. When he saw the final cut of the film he is supposed to have remarked, “Well, Jesus won.”

The extra features with this new Criterion Collection are exceptional. Do watch them. The interviews this year with the writers and Dourif are terrific. There is a rare audio presentation of Flannery O’Connor reading her short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” Also included is a 1982 discussion between Bill Moyers and Huston.

Wise Blood is for adults. Some may find it over the top and way too dark. The use of the racist word for African-Americans by whites in the film will be offensive to many. In her reading of the short story I noticed O’Connor one time changed the word to “colored.”

All that being said, for the right audience, this is a memorable movie. It is close to being a great film. Some parish film discussion groups would find this film perfect for lots of discussion. The extra features on the DVD would help any leader of the group.

If you’ve ever read the novel Wise Blood, or wanted to, do see John Huston’s Wise Blood.

(Father Caswell is archivist and Ecumenical Relations Officer for the Diocese of Spokane, and a frequent contributor to this publication.)

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