Directed by Daniel Barnz
Starring Jennifer Aniston, Adriana Barraza, Anna Kendrick, Sam Worthington, and William H. Macy
Claire becomes fascinated by the suicide of a woman in her chronic pain support group while grappling with her own, very raw personal tragedy.
Every actor has that role in their career where they break free of any shackles they were once tied to and show the world that they can be something more than what they are typecast to be. While Cake might not be the movie that breaks Jennifer Aniston away from being “Rachel from Friends”, she gives a sterling performance in a gripping, if slightly flawed, film.
Aniston plays Claire, a woman who suffers from chronic pain due to a car crash that not only caused her marriage to break down, but also killed her son. When a member of her support group named Nina (Anna Kendrick) kills herself, Claire has to come to terms with the life she now leads and question whether she really wants to get better, or follow a similar path as Nina.
Living with chronic pain is something that many of us can only imagine, so it’s challenging for Aniston to take on this role and then sell it so beautifully. Couple that with her playing a character dealing with loss, a love-hate relationship with her carer and a desire to see if killing herself is the answer and you have a lot of layers to peel back. Thankfully Aniston is on point, as each side of Claire’s character is realistically portrayed and developed, even if it does feel like the movie can’t pick a dynamic to run with. We’ve all known for some time that Aniston is capable of doing these types of roles but the studio system is happy for her to just be “this week’s romantic folly”, but perhaps Cake will be the movie that will allow her to take on more challenging roles. With any luck, Cake will allow Aniston to be the female Matthew McConaughey.
The supporting cast also do well with Sam Worthington finally showing he is more than just a pretty face and can actually pull out a half-decent showing. Having made a name for himself in big budget duds like Clash of the Titans, Terminator: Salvation and Avatar, Worthington provides a much calmer and relaxed performance here, which really extenuates his charm. Anna Kendrick, though given little to do, is a tremendous spectral torment to Claire and it’s nice to see Kendrick in a more bratty role when compared to her all-smiling performances in Pitch Perfect, Life After Beth and Into the Woods. But it’s Adriana Barraza who wonderfully steals the supporting show as the down-trodden-but-never-quitting carer Silvana. Even when Claire is at her worst in terms of attitude and behaviour, Silvana is her rock and Barraza is superb in this role.
If there is an issue with Cake is that it sometimes wants to, funnily enough, have its cake and eat it too. There are numerous plot threads involved which often makes the film feel unfocused. Is the film about Claire overcoming her chronic pain? Is about her fears of death? Is it about her grief? Is about her carer? Is it about her relationship with Roy? Is it about her relationship with Jason? Is it about helping a runaway delinquent? Is about an actual cake? Or is it about everything? Well, obviously, it’s the latter option of that list but that also means that not every plot thread is given enough time to fully manifest. At one point Cake feels like a redemption story, but that quickly takes a 180 and heads in a totally different direction. Like life itself, Cake is very unpredictable. While this can be seen as a positive, it does come across as a negative.
Cake can be pretty harrowing to watch and if you’ve ever had fears of living with constant pain, this will be a very difficult movie to sit through (no pun intended). Perhaps this is a movie that is further proof that The Oscars don’t matter when one of the best performances seen all year is ignored over others that weren’t half this good. Aniston is spell-binding as Claire, and her story is tragic, yet somehow uplifting. Wonderfully directed by Daniel Barnz from a great (if disjointed script) by Patrick Tobin, Cake is a brilliant slice of life movie (geddit?) and well worth checking out.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth and the host of the Flickering Myth Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeWritesStuff.