Many times it is difficult to compare movies to the books they were based on. The readers of the original story feel a fierce sense of obligation to promote the reading, while those who entered the scene at the movie stage feel just as obligated to tout the energy the acting, the special effects…..
I have always felt that in many cases comparing books to movies is like comparing fresh apples to apple pie. They are both apple in taste, but one has gone through remarkable transformation and is something altogether different. And sometimes, despite you love for apple pie… you crave an apple pure. They are different things and should be treated as such.
This is an argument I usually reserve for when the movie holds its own and despite “never” being as good as the book, it is still a good use of your time.
That is not the case here.
Not only does the book do a better job of telling the core story, a better job of creating characters that you care about, a better job of character development, a better job of pacing and telling a whole complete story…. But the movie does all that badly.
The book is written as series of journal type entries from all the major players involved. We get Ana’s side of things (mostly, she is our main protagonist) but we also get the perspective of the father, the mother, the brother, the lawyer… And this works as a novel. Partly because of the change in font/style/point in time, partly because this narrative technique is tailor made to give us piece after piece of a large puzzle that once complete offers us the whole picture. The movie attempted this sort of thing but fell hopelessly flat. The audience constantly wonders, ‘who are they talking to?’ and the diction is off for it being a journal… in the movie, Ana’s voice over says at one point “that’s my sister…” which is not how one write a journal but rather how one explains a photo.
Also, the point of view of Kate (the sick sister) is held off in the book until the end giving it well deserved weight. In the movie her voice is heard early on and seems to be there to do nothing more than make the audience weepy.
Something novels do extremely well is to show the passage of time. This concept is much harder for movies to do well.. and My Sister’s Keeper is a prime example of this. The actors age oddly and the because of the augmented pacing the time line is sometimes difficult to follow.
In essence, the filmmakers miss much of the beauty and poignancy of the story that was found in the novel. Having the audience actually laugh at improper times is a sign failure.
The whole thing is especially disappointing because there was potential for something really good and deep and meaningful… and at times we almost get it. There are a few moments of symbolism that are well done, but for the movie-goer’s eyes they lack context and thus are totally lost.
Perhaps, however, the real crime here is (as always in an adaptation) the issue of the Unforgivable Change. Little changes are expected, big changes are not appreciated, but again usually accepted… but the Unforgivable Change is truly unquestionably horrific. And no, I am not talking about the ending…. That change can be argued for and against all day and the answer will eventually come down to Hollywood, audiences, and marketing. I am talking about the kidney.
Kate is sick… she has been sick forever and her latest bit of sickness needs a kidney. From here sister. That’s the same scenario in both book and movie. Here’s the difference: in the book, the kidney is not a guarantee of wellness, in fact it is highly likely that even with the kidney, Kate will die. In the movie… not so much. The kidney is the saving grace for Kate making Ana’s fight to not be forced to donate it a bit harder to sympathize with. The idea of the kidney being a guarantee verse a last ditch effort to simply add a bit more time… changes the story in a remarkable and unforgivable way. Especially when you add in the “twist’ and the new ending.
Conclusion: Watch the preview then read the book. Despite its length, it is a shockingly fast read and will give you an actual story that not only makes sense but is worth your time.