Overview: Claire Bennett (Jennifer Aniston), a woman who suffers from chronic pain, ponders the her own quality of life and will to live when a member of her support group commits suicide. 2014; distributed by Cinelou Releasing; Rated R; 102 minutes.
Sugar and Spice: Cake won me over with its opening scene, setting the tone with a round table, superficial, sugary sweet discussion exercise revolving around a suicide victim. Claire Bennett slices through the falsity with a scathing comment that takes a stance against the blame the other women place on a person who is no longer around to defend her decisions. The bitterness and disdain Claire has for the shallow opinions of the ladies around her establish the way Claire interacts with those around her throughout the film, which is bound to trigger a strong response by the viewers that permeates the emotional reaction the audience has to her character from that point on.
To be frank, Claire Bennett is not a nice person. But she suffers from chronic, constant, excruciating pain, and she’s lost everything, so who can blame her? Her scathing remarks are razor sharp and cut like a knife, but they’re darkly funny. She’s tainted, jaded, and ruined, and she’s taken it upon herself to take it out on most of those who cross her path. We can’t fault her though, because she’s just so damn real. This film is not about lessons learned, or tender moments discovered, it’s an uncomfortable look at a woman who is struggling to hold on to something that’s worth surviving for.
And Everything Nice: Let’s all stop pretending we didn’t realize Jennifer Aniston can act. She’s been doing it for years. The most appropriate reaction is that we didn’t know she could rock our worlds with such a raw and beautiful depiction of a woman who reacts in a shockingly honest way to tragic circumstances. Her performance is flawless and powerful, a welcome transformation for an actress we’re so accustomed to seeing in breezy, carefree roles. Aniston loses herself in this character, allowing Claire’s struggles to absorb her, body and soul. It’s a crime she wasn’t nominated for an Oscar for this performance, because she deserves not only a nod, but a win.
Cake doesn’t spend much time developing its case of supporting characters, featuring an adequate turnout Anna Kendrick and Sam Worthington, plus a compassionate performance by Adriana Barraza, who plays Claire’s caretaker. However, the lack of focus and insight on these minor players is intentional and necessary for the film’s tone and its emphasis on Claire, because everything beyond her pain and uncertainty is just background noise. Her suffering is all that exists in her world now.
Cake is mostly a melancholy, tragically stunning film, with a groundbreaking performance by Aniston and enough biting humor and heart to create the perfect balance it needs to make a lasting impression.