Dir: Daniel Barnz
Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Adriana Barraza, Anna Kendrick, Sam Worthington, Felicity Huffman, Chris Messina, and William H. Macy
There is a moment in Daniel Barnz’s film “Cake” when the lead character stares at a blank wall where a significant picture once hung. The grief on the characters scarred face is visible, displaying the effect of time with wounds both physical and emotional. Jennifer Aniston plays Claire, a woman who was in a car accident and is struggling with constant pain amongst other upsetting issues from the past. Aniston is quite good in the lead role, bringing a performance that holds the otherwise predictable and oversentimental story together.
Claire is introduced in a group therapy session for people dealing with chronic pain. A large poster of a young woman named Nina (Anna Kendrick) sits on a chair in the front of the room. Nina recently committed suicide and the group is sharing their thoughts and feelings in a discussion. The question “Will you forgive me?" is asked by the group counselor (Felicity Huffman), referenced as if Nina were asking the group. Claire, biting her tongue long enough, is asked how she is feeling about the situation. A scathing and offensive response is given and Claire is kicked out of the group. This mask of aggression coincides with the pain that is controlling Claire’s life.
The narrative moves ever familiar from one transition to another. Claire begins in a very bad place, searching for pain medication hidden throughout her expensive, memory shadowed home and yelling at her physical therapist who is clearly tired of hearing the same excuses from her. Then Claire begins to pick herself up with the assistance of her sympathetic maid, played by an exceptional Adriana Barraza, and begins to confront the ghosts of her past and present. The rest of the journey is as foreseeable as they come. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with a film that indulges in these simplicities, there are moments where the film touches on some very interesting aspects of the healing process, specifically the people that help you along the way. Adriana Barraza plays Silvana, a character that accepts Claire with all her faults regardless of how terribly Claire treats her. Silvana knows all the personal details of Claire’s past, even handling the grieving process in her own way by helping Claire without question. In one excellent scene Silvana’s own daughter questions why she puts up with Claire. The response from Silvana is simple yet somehow still complicated, exposing more than any other scene, the character of Claire through the changed relationship experienced by Silvana. It’s unfortunate that these insightful scenes are overlooked, instead replaced with situations that offer nothing more than movement from scene to scene.
Jennifer Aniston is given the opportunity to showcase her talent. The portrayal of Claire is more than just grimaces and guarded motions, Aniston ventures to make more of the character than what is on the surface. And for the most part she succeeds. It’s unfortunate that other characters, ones that could have offered more for Aniston to work against, were terribly underwritten. “Cake”, at the focus, attempts to examine the process of grief. While Jennifer Aniston offers an exceptional performance, the narrative doesn’t offer more to make the healing journey more compelling and meaningful.
3.25 out of 5.00