“Cake” is quite a departure in the career of star Jennifer Aniston. First of all, it’s a drama. Most of the films Aniston has done have been over-the-top, romantic comedies. And before that, of course, she became a star on the TV sitcom “Friends”. Next, “Cake” deals with difficult subjects: pain, suicide and death. And finally, to be authentic in the portrayal of her character, Claire, Aniston doesn’t wear any makeup. It’s a bold decision and a brave performance, deserving of the Best Actress nominations she’s already received from Critics Choice, SAG, and the Golden Globes.
“Cake” is one of those films in which the life of the main character is unveiled in pieces, as the story progresses, and you don’t figure-out everything until the very end, and even then there are unanswered questions. Claire is living in a suburban California home, separated from her husband. She has a housekeeper Silvana (played by “Babel” Oscar nominee Adriana Barraza). And Claire takes a lot of medication to deal with the constant physical pain she’s dealing with throughout her body. Claire has noticeable scars, but early on we’re not sure why. And she has major psychological scars as well.
Nina, one of the women in Claire’s support group, recently committed suicide by jumping off of a highway bridge, leaving behind a husband and young son. Seeing, in the opening scene, a large picture of Anna Kendrick, who plays Nina, surrounded by the other support group members, is a little startling. Over the next few days, Claire begins to question, as we do, why Nina took her life. In an attempt to get some answers she begins an unlikely friendship with Roy, Nina’s widower (played by Sam Worthington).
“Cake” is not the feel-good film of the year. The tone is consistently grim and sad, with only a few brief, lighter moments, as Claire tries to make it through each day dealing with her many physical and emotional issues. She’s angry, depressed, and most days it’s only the addiction to pain killers that keeps her from lashing-out at everyone around her, and possibly, herself. Hope is nowhere to be found. And as the narrative unfolds, we get more details as to why. The question is: can Claire be saved?
While I admire what this script was attempting to do, there aren’t as many layers to “Cake” as I was expecting. The story is surprisingly straightforward, though there is a deeper meaning to many of the elements, including the film’s title. But for the entire time, thanks to Aniston’s incredible work, we are with Claire as she struggles to turn her life around, haunted, not unlike Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol” (not as far-off of a comparison as you might think) by the tragedies of her past, the desperation of her present life, and the fears of what’s to come.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Cake” gets a solid B.
Running Time: 102 min.