‘Cake’ Review: Jennifer Aniston Delivers Award-Worthy Performance In Mediocre Film
Cake wholly relies on Jennifer Aniston’s ability to infuse her movements with an all-encompassing pain and her psyche with a justifiable darkness, a task the actress best-known for her comedy chops accomplished and then some. There is no Rachel Green in Cake.
‘Cake’ Movie Review
Aniston plays Claire, a woman with all of the comforts of money, but without the luxury of standing or sitting – let alone walking – without experiencing chronic pain. Several months prior to the start of the film, Claire gets into a car accident while driving with her son. He died, and she was forced to carry on living without him, and with screws drilled into her leg bones. A changed woman after the accident, Claire’s marriage soon deteriorates, leaving her devoted housekeeper and a chronic pain support group as her sole sources of human interaction.
It’s in her chronic pain support group – led by Felicity Huffman’s caricature of a counselor – that Aniston meets Nina Collins (Anna Kendrick). Whereas Claire wastes little effort in hiding her disdain for the process, earning the derision of her cohorts, Nina’s unabashed sincerity had won them other – leaving them all the more distraught when they learn that she’s jumped off a freeway overpass to her death. Retelling the gory details of Nina’s suicide in a group therapy session, Claire gets dismissed from the program. With the added time on her hands, she pays a visit to the site of Nina’s suicide, and then to Nina’s surviving husband Roy (Sam Worthington).
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One of Cake’s primary – if not the primary – arc involves Nina’s ghost haunting Claire in both her night terrors and daydreams. The gimmick is stale from the first time it happens, and gets more awkward and unwatchable each time it happens after. Kendrick, who has delivered a number of commendable performances in her career, plays Nina with a menacingly sweet lilt that makes the character more suited to a pitch black comedy than a drama centered on physical and psychological trauma. The movie would have been just as effective, or rather more effective, had it never introduced Nina in the spectral flesh, and rather let only her memory serve as the impetus for Claire introducing herself to Roy.
Claire and Roy’s relationship in Cake thrives off shared pain and a shared inability to express that pain. Watching them flesh each other out, exposing vulnerabilities millimeter by millimeter proves interesting. There’s a palpable tension between them that indicates that what binds them could dissolve with one miscalculated move. Will they help each other through, or will one or both of them succumb to suicidal thoughts? One such weighted scene unfolds when Claire tries to muster up the emotional stamina to find Roy’s son a swimsuit in her late son’s boxed up belongings.
Aniston admitted in a recent interview that many of the A-list drama stars passed on the part of Claire in Cake, leaving it open for her to make it into her career-redefining role. After watching the movie, it’s little wonder why others chose to pass on it. The story wends almost incomprehensibly from support groups and cemeteries to drive-in theaters and Mexico. The tone is disjointed and many of the supporting characters are flat and uninteresting, including ones played by Chris Messina and William H. Macy. It’s just not that great of a movie.
With that being said, Aniston took a lemon of a script and delivered a performance worthy of recognition, and more importantly, worthy of bringing attention to chronic pain, addiction and depression. She breathes humanity and complicated depth into Claire, and so believably recreates the extreme discomfort of a chronic pain sufferer that her every movement elicits a visceral reaction, making it truly painful to watch. Aniston proved with her performance in Cake that with a better vehicle for her talents, she could move from the Oscar-snubbed to the Oscar-winner list.
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