Monday, January 19, 2015


 2.5 / 5 

Cake is a performance in search of a movie, a concept that overlooks one critical element of success: plot.  Jennifer Aniston gives a thoughtful, careful performance, but in honor of what, exactly, it isn't quite clear.

When Cake opens, Claire Bennett (Aniston) is taking part in a therapy group for women who have chronic pain.  One member of the group, Nina (Anna Kendrick), has committed suicide in a particularly violent, grisly fashion, and while the other members are grieving, Claire is having none of it.  She heaves a sigh, rolls her eyes and dismisses the emotion with a gruff disregard for anyone else in the room.

This is the basic concept we are asked to sympathize with in Cake -- that Claire's physical pain and its emotional cause are more important than anyone else's.

Claire lives in an expensive, mid-century home in the Hollywood Hills where her housekeeper Silvana (Adriana Barraza) tries to cope with her angry, embittered boss.  Although the awards buzz is all around Oscar-snubbed Aniston, Barraza gives the best performance in the film.  Silvana has a big, kind heart and lets Claire heap abuse on her because she knows the real reason Claire is in such pain.

Cake tries to hide that reason until the last few minutes, but any astute moviegoer will correctly guess it within the first few.  What happened to Claire left her broken both in body and in spirit, and most of Cake is devoted to watching her suffer.  Aniston walks gingerly, with an exhausted bend in her body, sits carefully as if every movement is impossible.  She has the physical appearance of Claire down pat, and wants to convey the anger that comes with it, but that's where things get problematic, either for Aniston or the screenplay by Patrick Tobin -- or, perhaps, both.

Claire lacks something crucial; she has no inner grace despite the pain, and she's not outwardly callous enough to be jaw-droppingly inappropriate.  Cake wants us to marvel at just how mean-spirited, embittered and filled with rage Claire is, but Aniston (or, again, maybe it's the screenplay) never pushes her over the edge.  It's impossible to be disgusted with Claire, just mildly annoyed.

Most of Cake revolves around Claire seeking one cure or another for her pain.  Occasionally, the ghost of Nina shows up, because we're led to believe Claire has developed an unhealthy obsession with the woman -- going so far as to befriend Nina's grieving husband (Sam Worthington).  But these scenes feel more like diversions, detours around the core of the story, which is how Claire refuses to confront the emotional reality of what happened to her.

The movie doesn't want to confront that reality, either, so it misses a chance at real power and settles for mild interest.  Aniston is very good, and occasionally finds the grieving, aching woman a Claire's core.  But it's rarely within the power of an actor to overcome an ill-conceived script, which is the unfortunate case with Cake.

Viewed Jan. 17, 2015 -- DVD

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