Cake

Cake photo starrating-3stars.jpgClaire is an embittered forty-something struggling with chronic pain as a result of a car accident. She attends a support group for other women dealing with the same issues. One of the group’s members, Nina (Anna Kendrick), has committed suicide and her death is only one of the tragedies with which Claire is trying to deal. There’s another which we don’t discover until much much later into the story. Beware of reviews that spoil this, because it’s a big component of understanding this woman.

First and foremost, Cake is an understated character-driven drama that highlights a really solid portrayal from Jennifer Aniston. Cake garnered Oscar talk at the Toronto Film Festival in September of 2014 when the actress received accolades for her work. Yet the movie debuted to rather mixed reviews in January. The thing is, her performance is indeed very good. I’ll concede it’s bolstered by two things: (1) Her totally unglamorous appearance, including faint scars on her face, and (2) that we are familiar with Jennifer Aniston’s career. A star most identified with the TV show Friends, she has never really stretched beyond the role of playing “woman from Los Angeles” or at least someone who could be from there. (Her role in 2002’s The Good Girl is an exception.) Cake is no different, she’s playing a contemporary woman from southern California. However this time she is able to extract more nuance. The role allows her to downplay her usual lively attitude and exposes a world weary frustration that is so sincere, it seems like an element of her actual personality. Without her enthusiasm to get you to identify with her, she has to work harder to cull the audience‘s emotion.

Cake isn’t a monumental achievement in film. It‘s small, quiet and a little maudlin. What’s admirable about Cake is that it doesn’t feel the need to make its main character warm and fuzzy. She’s a prickly individual damaged by grief and her temperament reflects that. Whether that element is a part of Aniston’s own personality or just something that she uncovered for the role is irrelevant. She is this woman and embodies her with authenticity. She receives strength from Silvana, her hired caregiver. You may remember actress Adriana Barraza from her Oscar nominated role in Babel. Her role is kind of similar here. They even take a trip across the Mexican border. But Silvana provides such genuine warmth that it nicely balances Claire’s understandable irritability with life. Even Sam Worthington turns up in a small role that permits him to act and not simply be the human actor in a special effects-laden spectacle. But in the end, this is Aniston’s picture. She makes you care about this grieving woman and that’s not easy to do.

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23 Responses to “Cake”

  1. just saw this today and really enjoyed it. Aniston truly broke her standard mold with this film and I’m now actually surprised that she didnt get the nom for this. Not sure who she should bump out, but this is clearly a great performance.

    I try not to read review before I watch a movie for the very reason you listed above and I loved how they slowly gave us more and more info as the movie goes on instead of hitting us with a bang.

    Great review Mark!

  2. Good review Mark. It hardly goes anywhere. Same with Aniston’s performance, which is more or less just her grunting, swearing and looking mad.

  3. From your Facebook posts, I expected 3.5 to 4 stars. I guess 3 would have been a more reasonable expectation. It sounds like your reaction here was similar to your reaction to The Iron Lady. Which is good enough for me.

  4. I can’t say I’m overly enthusiastic about seeing this, Mark, but Aniston does sound interesting. I too thought she was great in The Good Girl. Fine review, sir!

  5. great review 😀

  6. I really don’t understand why Jennifer was snubbed, she outdid Marion Cotilard here. She should have been nominated. Movie was also, better than I expected. 3 stars

  7. Considering this film has such a strong ensemble it certainly wastes a lot of them. Jennifer Aniston was very good, but I thought Adriana Barraza was much better and got more out of her performance.
    Anna Kendrick was awful.

  8. Your review echoes a lot of what I’ve heard about this film: a great performance by Aniston, but not an amazing movie overall. I do like hearing that it isn’t afraid to make it’s protagonist prickly and unlikable. I think more pictures need to do that. Cake is on my list, although admittedly not super high at the moment. I feel like I have other more important Best Picture-nominated fish to fry before Oscar night.

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