Director: Daniel Barnz
Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Adriana Barraza, Anna Kendrick, Sam Worthington, Mamie Gummer, Felicity Huffman, William H. Macy, Chris Messina, Lucy Punch, Britt Robertson
Release Date: January 23rd, 2015
When Claire (Jennifer Aniston) travels down to Mexico with her caretaker Silvana (Adriana Barraza) in the new drama Cake, more about the two purchase drugs and then smuggle them back into the United States in a statue of Saint Jude. The irony isn’t lost on them. As Silvana explains, cost Jude is a saint for lost and desperate causes. Claire notes how appropriate that is, noting that her situation qualifies her as one.
Played by Aniston, Claire is a bitter and angry woman so enamored with her own grief and pain that she can’t see beyond it. As many have pointed out, this is a distinct departure from Aniston’s light-hearted comedic work on Friends and it’s even a departure from her more serious work in movies like The Good Girl (2002). Nobody wants to be around Claire. Even the government-subsidized support group she’s in thinks that she would be happier elsewhere.
Claire recognizes this and even when someone argues that Silvana does care about her, Claire retorts that she pays Silvana to care about her.
It’s a difficult role but Aniston manages to wring the best out of it, showing the vulnerability and torture that overshadows Claire’s daily movements. Claire, it’s explained in subtle but meaningful ways, suffers from chronic pain caused by an accident years earlier. The details of the accident aren’t explained (in one the writer’s few subtle choices) as this feature isn’t focused on Claire’s past but on her present— a period in her life defined by physical therapy and partly defined by her growing obsession with a widower Roy (Sam Worthington), whose wife Nina (Anna Kendrick)–a sufferer of chronic pain herself– recently committed suicide.
The concept provides a solid showcase for Aniston but little room for a strong story. Instead, writer Patrick Tobin falters inelegantly by offering too many obvious choices in his script. Claire starts seeing Nina as an apparition, who condemns Claire’s bizarre choices. The choice to have Nina reappear at the most inopportune times is an in-your-face artistic ploy here that undermines Claire’s real struggles. Nina, played by the well-lit and glamorous Kendrick, is an obvious mirror image of Claire. There’s no subtlety in the scenes depicting the dour and pained Claire talking with the positive and upbeat image she sees of Nina.
At its core, the film works when it focuses on the everyday life of Claire and her budding but strange relationship with Roy. Roy knows that Claire is strange and beset with grief but welcomes her warmly into his world (although he admits to her that he can’t save her from herself). Where Cake falters though is when it becomes too self-aware and tries to throw too many different components into its formula.
There’s an out-of-place scene featuring Silvana at home that feels like it’s from a different film. There’s a scene with a gardener (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), who seems like he’s going to play a major role but then is suddenly dropped from the story without question. The most frustrating component for me, though, may have been the moment that the mysterious Leonard (William H. Macy) comes out of nowhere to play a pivotal role in one scene.
Why his character comes into play at the most inopportune time for Claire seems extremely forced, to say the least.
It’s true that Aniston does a commendable job here, showing off a side of her acting abilities and her personality that audiences aren’t accustomed to. It’s also true that Claire— despite her persistent negativity— feels like she could actually be a real person. The problem here though is context and the world Claire faces in this picture lacks the subtlety and realness that could’ve really made this movie stand out.
Review by: John Hanlon