Review: Jennifer Aniston in Cake

It’s harshest critics have suggested that Cake mainly served as a vehicle to get Jennifer Aniston an Oscar nomination – and it sadly failed in this respect, although garnering the actress Golden Globe and SAG Award nominations. Aniston is truly impressive here, but there is much more to enjoy in this emotionally-raw indie.

Daniel Barnz (Beastly) directs this tale of Claire Bennett (Aniston) – the pill-popping, heavy-drinking member of a chronic pain support group. After the suicide of fellow member Nina (Anna Kendrick), Claire develops an unlikely friendship with Nina’s widowed husband (Sam Worthington), whilst battling her own personal demons.
Patrick Tobin’s narrative initially presents us with an addict with no desire for recovery. We see Claire’s spiky attitude get her kicked out of her support group, followed by the addict simply falling back into her habits of pill-popping and drinking. Her gradual bond with Nina’s widow and her relationship with kind-hearted housekeeper Silvana (the sensational Adriana Barraza) helps give us glimmers of a more human side – the real woman beneath the cutting demeanour, pain, and physical scars. A scene which sees Claire and Silvana make a trip to Tijuana cements the unlikely bond between the two women – and serves as a reflection of who Claire could be if she beat her hang-ups. Who we want her to be. 
There is entertainment to be found in some of Claire’s put-downs – her total lack of regard for others in her support group is strangely endearing with plenty of moments of dark comedy laced throughout Cake. However, Cake’s emotional nerve is by far its strongest asset – the primal character transition at the heart of the piece is utterly warming and continually affecting. Scenes like Claire looking through the room of her deceased child or her regular breakdowns may be cheap and easy emotional fodder – but they are nonetheless effective.

Aesthetically Cake  has an air of lightness about it – it’s breezy and dreamlike in its presentation of a realistic Los Angeles that blends with Claire’s pill-induced hallucinations creating an original and vibrant visual potency. An emerald green haze surrounding Claire’s pool or repeated dreams of jumping to her death present both the fantastical side of hallucinogenic drugs and the bleak realities that come with the addiction – giving us a real insight into the troubled psyche of our protagonist.

Aniston is outstanding here in a performance that inspires all sorts of clichéd terms like ‘brave’ and ‘uncompromising’  – but these labels are completely apt for such a turn. Claire’s initially hard demeanour of the cold, cynical and depressed addict is deeply engaging – especially when we see the kindness and warmth break through her defences. Barraza is equally magnificent as a woman committed to her employer’s well-being despite her gradually dwindling patience. Supporting appearances from Anna Kendrick, Sam Worthington, Felicity Huffman, and William H. Macy all prove effective.

Cake may not have got Aniston her Oscar nomination, but it is a film that she should be proud of. Cake is a gorgeously penned character piece that hits all the right emotional nerves and presents an actress capable of great things.

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