It seems that Jennifer Aniston is destined to only put in really good performances in movies that not that many people see. Back in 2002, reviewers fawned over her role in The Good Girl, but when after that she went back to dreck like The Bounty Hunter (shudder), The Switch (wretch) and Just Go With It (vomit), everybody forgot she is actually very good when given the chance. That has occasionally shown through, even in films like We’re The Millers, but because of the type of movie’s she’s in it’s largely been overlooked.
As a result, her performance in Cake has been described by some as ‘revelatory’, but it’s not, it’s just a reminder that she has real dramatic chops to mix in with the comedy when she has the right role. It wouldn’t actually be too much of a surprise if she won an Oscar one day, and indeed many say she should have gotten a nomination for Cake.
She plays Claire Bennett, a woman who is living in constant pain following a terrible accident. One of the women in her support group, Nina (Anna Kendrick), has just killed herself, and Claire finds herself becoming increasingly obsessed with this, possibly because she is considering whether this is the right way out for her too – not just because of the physical pain, but also due to the emotional fallout of her accident.
Her obsession also leads her into the life of Nina’s widowed husband, Roy (Sam Worthington), and the two strike up an unlikely alliance. In amongst this is Claire long-suffering assistant/maid, Silvana (the glorious Adriana Barazza), who is trying to help and keep Claire on track. While Silvana is aware Claire’s reliance on pain meds is getting out of control, she doesn’t know her employer has also started having visions of the dead Nina.
It doesn’t exactly sound like the most cheerful of plots, but Cake has an acerbic wit and is actually a lot funnier than it sounds. It also benefits from Aniston putting in an absolute firecracker of a performance. She is brilliant as Claire, a woman who is as bitter as she is droll and as screwed up as she is astute. In other hands that character could have simply come across as a monster, despite the mitigating circumstances of her chronic pain, but Aniston pulls it all together so that while Claire may not be a nice person, she remains a sympathetic one.
The other characters are less successful, largely because most get so little screen time that they don’t really have time to come to life. There has also been some criticism of whether the movie itself lacks the depth of its main character. However, I don’t think that’s necessarily true. I found it extremely effective and surprisingly moving, but it does only work if you can understand what it’s getting at and how Claire’s life is essentially a case of day-to-day survival that has turned her completely inward. However, due to the issues she is dealing with, being totally inside herself is probably the worst place for her – and it is for that reason she seeks constant numbness.
It’s not perfectly handled, and indeed the visions of Nina seem rather random. Indeed, the only reason I didn’t immediately assume this was a rather annoying, quirky, indie movie affectation is because I’ve watched House MD, where Hugh Laurie started having similar hallucinations caused by his dependence on pain medication. Without that I would probably have been rolling my eyes.
Although there are a few things like that which could have been handled better way and which seems a tiny bit clichéd, overall I thought it was a really good movie. A lot of the credit does have to go to Aniston and Adriana Barazza, as both of them are brilliant, but the movie itself is pretty affecting too.
Overall Verdict: Led by a masterful performance from Jennifer Aniston, Cake manages to be an alternately very funny and very anguished film, that is surprisingly moving.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac