Cake Comedy

Film Review: Cake

January 23, 2015Ben MK

Pain and gain...

Being a movie star is all about being glamorous. However, in her latest movie, Cake, Jennifer Aniston is anything but. In the indie dramedy, Aniston sheds all vanity to portray a woman suffering the debilitating aftereffects of a devastating accident that has left her not just physically scarred, but also emotionally wounded. And even though it's a role that has failed to garner the actress a Best Actress nomination at this year's Oscars, that doesn't change the fact that it turns out to be her most compelling screen performance in years.


Aniston plays Claire Simmons, a former L.A. attorney who's now unable to work (or do much of anything else, for that matter) on account of the chronic pain resulting from injuries she sustained in a car wreck over one year prior. The accident also claimed the life of her young son, and now Claire attends a women's support group as part of her long road to recovery — which, by the way, isn't going so well.

Director Daniel Barnz and screenwriter Patrick Tobin's film is very much a character study of Claire, framed around her somewhat unhealthy preoccupation with the recent suicide of fellow support group member Nina (Anna Kendrick), who decided to throw herself off a busy freeway overpass, leaving behind her husband, Roy (Sam Worthington), and 5-year-old son (Evan O'Toole).

When her unpleasant attitude gets her booted from the group by its leader, Annette (Felicity Huffman), Claire embarks on a personal — and oftentimes misguided — mission to uncover the details surrounding Nina's death.

Driven partly by morbid curiosity, sometimes haunted by Nina's ghostly presence and enlisting the aid of her personal care worker, Silvana (a wonderful Adriana Barraza), Claire even goes so far as to threaten Annette in order to learn Nina's home address and pay Roy a visit. Surprisingly, Claire and Roy find a kindred spirit in one another, and as they spend more and more time together, it unexpectedly sets Claire on the right path to recovery, as she's led to the realization that it's not the pain from her injuries that's holding her back, but rather the grief she feels for the loss of her son.

Where the movie shines is in Aniston's multifaceted portrayal of her character, for the actress brings an incredible degree of depth to her depiction, from both an emotional and a physical standpoint. Claire is without a doubt a victim of circumstance, and Aniston's pained expressions, disheveled appearance and curtailed movements never fail to elicit sympathy from the audience. However, she's also in many ways a very dislikable and unsympathethic character, because not only does the pain turn Claire's own body against her, it also causes her to lash out in a verbally abusive manner at the people around her (which, we're led to assume, is what drove away her ex-husband, played by Chris Messina).

It's a tricky tonal balance to maintain, especially when the film attempts to take the edge off the drama with dark, acerbic humor. But Aniston's efforts to do so are exceptionally rewarding to watch, and the film is all the better with her in the role. At the same time, however, putting her performance front and center is also Cake's greatest flaw, as the rest of the movie simply isn't up to par with the caliber of Aniston's portrayal.

That's not to say that the movie's supporting cast — especially Barraza and Worthington — aren't all uniformly excellent. They are. But most of the film's secondary characters are often too thinly drawn, plot points are handled a little too predictably (yes, the movie does indeed feature a cake or two) and, in the end, everything is just tied up and presented in too neat a bow for the story to register as anything truly meaningful.

The Bottom Line In Cake, Jennifer Aniston delivers what's sure to be considered a career-defining performance. The film itself, on the other hand, is something of a half-baked treat, for though it ticks all the right boxes when it comes to what a darkly comedic indie drama should be, what it ultimately amounts to doesn't quite live up to the promise set forth by its lead actress. Consider it another example of the age-old adage — you really can't have your cake and eat it too.  Ben Mk

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