Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Adriana Barraza, Anna Kendrick
Directed by: Daniel Barnz (“Won’t Back Down”)
Written by: Patrick Tobin (“No Easy Way”)
Over the past couple of months as Oscar season has been ramping up, studios and distributors have been feverishly pouring money into awards campaigns to try to get their films and their cast and crew nominated. Perhaps nobody was given a larger push than “Cake” lead actress Jennifer Aniston. Highlighting her lack of vanity in wearing no make up and adding facial scars, Aniston was everywhere promoting the film and campaigns were seen all over the internet. Of course, when the nominations were announced last week, Aniston’s name was absent, perhaps proving that Oscar noms can’t always be bought or influenced…or maybe voters were simply acknowledging that “Cake” is not a good film.
After suffering a tragic accident that left her in chronic pain, among other things, Claire (Aniston) has become a miserable and angry person. When a fellow member of her chronic pain support group, Nina (Anna Kendrick) commits suicide, Claire becomes fascinated with her life and her widowed husband Roy (Sam Worthington). As the two become closer, they connect as people trying to put the pieces back together.
In her defense, this is the best work of Aniston’s career as she is able to sink her teeth into a dramatically heavy role and capture the essence of a truly unpleasant person. It may not be Oscar worthy, but it proves that Aniston has the chops to take on roles with a little more substance. It should also be pointed out that perhaps the only character in the film that has any sort of depth is Adriana Barraza who plays Claire’s housekeeper Silvana. Barraza, who is fiercely loyal in the face of being treated horribly, is the only source of true humanity in the film as a whole.
The film itself starts off decent enough, with a pretty good opening scene that shows how caustic Claire is in the wake of her accident. From there, however, screenwriter Patrick Tobin begins to paint Claire as a woman with no redeeming qualities. As the scenes progress, the character of Claire becomes increasingly boorish and quite frankly, annoying to watch. It is to a fault, as Tobin tries to foster empathy with a character that is rude and mean for no reason. Yes, she is in the wake of a horrible tragedy and in chronic pain, but she is regularly lying, threatening blackmail, and insulting people who are simply trying to help her. That is just the tip of the iceberg. Adding to the faults of the screenplay are far too many dream sequences as well as hallucinations of the dead Nina, which essentially play out as the devil on Claire’s shoulder and add virtually nothing to the mix.
As the film goes on, it also becomes more and more contrived, hitting a peak with the storyline that explains the films title of “Cake.” By the time we see the façade of Claire begin to crack, the filmmakers have pushed her detestability so far that any chance for sympathy is too far-gone. A redemption story is only worthwhile when you can actually invest in a character, which is nearly impossible in “Cake.”