Friday, January 23, 2015

Movie with Abe: Cake

Directed by Daniel Barnz
Released January 23, 2015

Now here’s a film that many will hear about and few will actually see. Jennifer Aniston has transformed herself from “Friends” star to true actress with a performance that earned her Golden Globe and SAG nominations and the right to be taken seriously. The film surrounding her, on the other hand, is a far less decisively great film, one that includes elements of a much stronger movie and ultimately can’t quite decide where it wants to go. While it lasts, it’s interesting, but it’s hard to know what the sum total of the experience is supposed to indicate about human interaction.

Aniston stars as Claire, a woman afflicted with chronic pain who has clearly had some physically and figuratively scarring life event that has drained whatever happiness she might have been able to feel completely out of her system. Claire is gruff and impolite, and wears the experience of her unending enormous discomfort on her face, which sits there just as presently and consistently as her scars. She chews out members of her support group for feeling too much emotion, and her closest relationship is with her housekeeper Silvana (Adriana Barraza), who gives much of herself to ensure the well-being of her employer.

Claire opens up after the suicide of her friend Nina (Anna Kendrick), which inexplicably prompts Claire to meet her husband Roy (Sam Worthington) and begin to connect with him on a deeply personal level. Humanizing Claire is no small feat, and Aniston manages to do so while still staying committed to her crude and brutal outlook on life. Worthington, who usually stars in action movies, is an odd but relatively effective choice to play Roy, purposely designed with little personality and an open attitude to this strange woman suddenly present in his life. It’s Kendrick whose performance is truly unforgettable as a cruel and haunting hallucinated version of Nina who torments Claire in solitary moments and unsubtly pushes her to consider ending her life too. Felicity Huffman, Chris Messina, and Britt Robertson shine in small roles as well.

The overall experience of “Cake” is a discombobulated one, an eager attempt at showing what true constant pain is like and the effect that it has on a person. Claire works as a central figure because she is stubborn and unflinching, and having Aniston play the part only makes it more effective. Images of a teary Aniston paired with articles about her being snubbed by Oscar voters are cheaply chosen and don’t do the performance justice. Aniston is obviously destined for more than poorly-reviewed romantic comedies, and as a showcase for her work, this is a decent vehicle, but otherwise it’s an unfinished product that isn’t nearly as strong as its main part.


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