by E. Ladd
There is no mistaking the fact that Cake, written by Patrick Tobin and directed by Daniel Barnz, is a star vehicle for actress Jennifer Aniston. It debuted at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival this past fall and will be released in theaters nationwide this coming weekend. Since it’s opening, Aniston’s performance has garnered much attention, racking up award nominations in the Best Actress category for the Golden Globes, Critics Choice Awards, and the Screen Actors’ Guild. There was even speculation of her receiving an Academy Award nomination but in light of last week’s Oscars announcement that didn’t come to fruition.
The story revolves around Claire Bennett (played by Aniston), a Los Angeles woman battling crippling back pain and an addiction to painkillers. She becomes fascinated with the suicide of a fellow chronic pain support group member Nina (Anna Kendrick) and seeks out Nina’s widowed husband (Sam Worthington) to further comprehend the details of her death. Along the way, and under the watchful care of her housekeeper Silvana (Adriana Barrza), with whom she sometimes has a strained relationship, Claire comes to terms with her own personal demons and the deeper source of her misery.
This film is all about Aniston’s performance. With a drab haircut, no makeup, loose fitting, dish water gray/muted attire, her Claire is a far cry from the Aniston super star persona that’s usually splashed all over the covers of tabloid magazines. Typecast for ten years as Rachel Green from TV’s Friends, lead roles in romantic comedies, and never being far from the scrutiny of the media because of her very public split from husband Brad Pitt and the “Brangelina” hoopla that still ensues, it’s hard to imagine Jennifer Aniston as anybody other than Jennifer Aniston. Still, she manages a convincing portrayal of an ordinary woman, wracked with physical pain and experiencing a terrible tragedy. Despite her brusque manner and caustic remarks, Claire has your sympathy. Aside from her other against-type role as Justine in 2002’s The Good Girl, this is one of Aniston’s best performances to date.
This isn’t a great film, by any means. The plot itself doesn’t leave much to the imagination. It feels borrowed from a Lifetime TV movie, minus the star power. When Claire’s true source of pain is revealed, you’ve already guessed what it is. The actors do their best with the material provided, with the exception of Anna Kendrick’s role as a spectral Nina. Although Nina’s death is the impetus for Claire’s actions and what drives the plot forward, the visions of Nina seem jarring and awkward in what is an otherwise low-key drama and character study of grief and recovery. Even so, Aniston shines here and despite discussions of this film being nothing more than Oscar bait for an actress moving past her prime, she is deserving of all of the accolades she’s received.
Watch the trailer for Cake
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