UK Release Date: 20th February 2015
Runtime: 102 minutes
Director: Daniel Barnz
Writer: Patrick Tobin
Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Adriana Barraza, Sam Worthington, Anna Kendrick, Felicity Huffman, William H Macy
Synopsis: A woman suffering from chronic pain struggles to keep her life together in the wake of one of her support group members’ suicide.
When the early marketing started to kick in for Cake, its motivations became clear. This was the film that was supposed to win Jennifer Aniston her first Oscar nomination. However, with that in mind, the film got a bit of a battering from critics and Aniston missed out on a Best Actress nod. But that dismissal does a disservice to a film that has an awful lot going for it.
Claire (Aniston) is left with chronic pain after surviving the car accident that killed her son. When discussing the suicide of support group member Nina (Anna Kendrick), she verbally lashes out at group leader Annette (Felicity Huffman) and is removed from the group. With her house-maid Silvana (Adriana Barraza) at her side, she meets Nina’s husband Roy (Sam Worthington) in an effort to help her deal with her pain.
Cake is not a film that is preoccupied with plot. This is a character study, which focuses on its protagonist’s mental state and her need to understand what led Nina to leap off a freeway bridge. As a result, it hinges on Aniston’s performance in a role that could have easily left her ability exposed.
| "Tell me a story where everything works out in the end for the evil witch."
Aniston rises to the challenge with a great performance. It would be easy for this to have become two hours of tear-soaked gurning, but Aniston brings real subtlety to the role of Claire. She is a troubled woman, and Aniston conveys that, but she’s also a character keen to put up a front of snark and humour to hide her true emotions. There might not be a barnstorming moment to use in an Oscar montage clip, but it’s a performance of real complexity.
She is amply supported by Adriana Barraza, who does well with the role of Aniston’s maid. She could easily have been sidelined, but her charismatic performance elevates the character to something more. The same cannot be said for Sam Worthington, who continues his run of utterly charisma-free performances.
It doesn’t help that Worthington’s performances sit during the most uninteresting segments of Cake’s uneven running time. Aniston’s interactions with him seem aimless in the context of her recovery – the real intrigue occurs when she meets visions of the departed Nina. Confronting Nina allows Claire to confront her own issues and it really allows the audience a window into her state of mind.
| "I’m not a stalker – at least not in the traditional sense."
It’s unfortunate that Cake has such peaks and troughs of momentum because, as a showcase for Jennifer Aniston, it does a great job. However, with huge gaps in momentum and a finale that replaces the film’s prior nihilism with awards-baiting glee, it never quite manages to form the complete package.
Pop or Poop?
Jennifer Aniston’s mature central performance isn’t enough to make Cake an awards-worthy masterpiece, especially as it’s let down by its own attempts at securing awards season glory.
The supporting cast are a mixed bag and the narrative veers wildly from intrigue to boredom. A January-February release and a marquee name are not enough to carry a film to success on the red carpet.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.