On the Silver Screen – Cake
Daniel Barnz’ Cake is the story of Claire (Jennifer Aniston) becoming fascinated by the suicide of a woman she barely knows in her support group as it reminds her of her own personal tragedy.
There’s been a lot of discussion lately about this film being snubbed from the Oscars and how much of an injustice that is. I’ll go on record here as saying that I don’t really care about what awards a film gets or manages to be nominated for because it doesn’t make the experience any better or worse for me but I will say that I can see why.
Cake isn’t a very good film. It’s overlong, very poorly paced and often boring. The concept is a good idea but the execution is so poor that it fails to properly resonate. It could be personal bias on my part as the film plays out more like a character study rather than an actual story. I’m more inclined to enjoy a film that has a story that helps us explore the character rather than essentially following them around like some sort of deranged reality TV show.
Jennifer Aniston has been rightly praised for her wonderful performance in this film. Claire is a really interesting character and Aniston does a great job of playing this immensely broken person. I’ve had limited exposure to Jennifer Aniston in films since Friends ended but this felt like a massive departure of her comfort zone to me. She is made to look far more plain than I’m used to with oily looking hair, visible scars and a lack of makeup or fashionable clothes.
Claire is filled with regret and self loathing as well as struggling with her emotional and physical limitations. She was injured in an accident that claimed the life of her son and has no enthusiasm to make things better. Her coping mechanism is to lash out at those around her and pop painkillers as if they were sweets that she washes down with wine. It’s all really unhealthy and self destructive which sums up her character perfectly.
The major relationships for her in the film are with her housekeeper Silvana (Adriana Barraza) and her dead friend’s husband Roy (Sam Worthington) with the deceased Nina (Anna Kendrick) showing up in drug induced hallucinations periodically. She shares most of her screen time with Silvana who seems to be very long suffering as she gets frequently yelled at while being asked to do insane things. Silvana does them because she wants to at least be around to stop her boss from doing something horrible to herself. It’s actually quite a pure relationship that seems to rely on some sort of joint dependency to sustain itself.
Claire’s relationship with Roy feels really undercooked as it doesn’t appear to go anywhere that resembles interesting. Sam Worthington wasn’t all that great in this film as he mumbles his way though his dialogue while exhibiting very little in the way of believable emotion. It’s strange that it feels so superfluous as those characters seem to have similar issues and could really help each other through them. Instead the narrative dances around the notion and goes nowhere with it.
The hallucinations felt a little unnecessary as they didn’t really provide any meaningful insight into the characters. I don’t really feel that Claire learned anything from experiencing them and tonally they seemed at odds with the rest of the film.
Despite Claire’s almost constant mean streak there are moments of lucidity to her. I really liked seeing those brief moments where the person that she used to be before the film began seems to creep through such as helping Silvana look successful in front of her friends. As good as the character was it wasn’t enough to save the film from being too long and boring.
An overlong, poorly paced and boring character study that is slightly elevated by the really impressive performance from Jennifer Aniston.
Aniston is exploring new territory -at least as far as I’m concerned- with her portrayal of Claire in this film. She is emotionally damaged, physically scarred, without makeup and lacking any glamourous clothes as she lives her life closed off from the outside world while she pops painkillers like sweets.
She does a fantastic job with this character by giving her many layers of complexity. Her lashing out at others is a clear defense mechanism that sometimes gives way to a sense of wellbeing and genuine affection for others in her life. She constantly verbally abuses her housekeeper but sees her as her closest friend for instance.
Claire also forges a codependent relationship with her friend’s husband after she committed suicide. They both need someone to help them deal with their issues so it seems like a natural thing to do. Unfortunately it doesn’t really go anywhere and Sam Worthington never quite comes across as believable in this role.
As good as Aniston’s performance was it’s not enough to save the film from poor pacing or a lack of plot. It seems to be a collection of scenes as we follow Claire around for a few days but most of it isn’t actually that interesting to watch. This could be personal bias as I’d rather have a plot than a character study but either way the film struggled to hold my attention.