Cake (2014) / Drama-Comedy

MPAA Rated: R for language, substance abuse and brief sexuality
Running Time: 102 min.

Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Sam Worthington, Anna Kendrick, Adriana Barraza, Felicity Huffman, Mamie Gummer, Chris Messina
Small role: William H. Macy, Lucy Punch
Director: Daniel Barnz
Screenplay: Patrick Tobin

Review published January 20, 2015

Jennifer Aniston (Horrible Bosses 2, Life of Crime) would go on to get a Golden Globe nomination for her work in Cake, a seriocomic look at depression, grief, physical and emotional afflictions, and suicidal thoughts not uncommon among survivors of a traumatic accident.  Aniston stars as Claire Simmons, who walks around in perpetual pain due to pins in her body following a horrific accident that saw her body and face covered with scars.  Claire's pessimistic attitude sees her bounced form her support group, especially after comments she makes following the suicide of one of their members, Nina (Kendrick, Into the Woods), who later comes back to torment her in a variety of ways likely all in Claire's mind because she is envious of her committal to ending it all.  Addicted to pain meds and alcohol to get her over the physical hump, she's stuck in a life stagnation, refusing to deal with her past, but also not able to push herself forward again to full recovery.

Cake largely puts most of its weight on Aniston, and she manages to deliver a credible performance as a woman who is burdened by loss, grief, and the inability to find much joy in her own life, just looking for the next pill to pop to help her forget.  Though the subject matter is bleak, the delivery plays more like a dark, acerbic comedy, and it straddles the line between being funny and tragic in ways that don't go too far astray in either direction to make it grossly uneven.  It's some of Aniston's best work, allowing her to embody a personality rather than use her looks and charm, going against her natural grain.  It's also a good physical performance, as it always appears as though she is in constant pain, which definitely makes some of her rudeness understandable; it's hard to play nice while also feeling like screws are being turned into your bones with every move.

It's an indie film through and through, from the quirky characters to the semi-comic vibe, so if you're a fan of smaller cinema about people who need a push to make it through life, Cake may be right up your alley.  The direction by Daniel Barnz (Beastly, Won't Back Down) manages to keep the proper tone, working from an insightful screenplay by Patrick Tobin (No Easy Way), though it should be noted that the main crux of what happened to Claire that has caused her to live life to such a fruitless degree is more alluded to than shown.  That does make it somewhat refreshing, but also robs the film of its more impactful moments, though there's just enough here to give someone a good cry if they're appropriately in tune with its subtle way it tells its low-key tale.

Qwipster's rating:

2015 Vince Leo