21 01 2015

CakeJennifer Aniston stars in “Cake” as Claire Bennett, a woman struggling with chronic pain following a tragic automotive accident.  The poster and production stills almost completely hide it, but she sports a deep and instantly noticeable scar on her face stemming from the traumatic event.

And, per usual in an indie drama, the emotional scars run far deeper.  She attends group therapy as well as physical rehabilitation only to undo their progress in a toxic cocktail of booze and painkillers.  Claire further masks her agony through biting, sardonic wisecracks, deflecting anyone from exposing her pressing need for help.

It would be wrong to assign the character sole responsibility for her continuing struggles; the maelstrom of physical and emotional pain presents a tough obstacle for even the strongest individual to overcome.  Claire’s self-destructive tendencies do not disqualify her from receiving sympathy, either, yet the movie’s myopic focus on her pity party feels … well, pitiful.

Not to discredit or downplay her anguish, but Claire is a wealthy, white Angeleno living comfortably in unexplained luxury.  Her inability to function in society, shockingly, never seems to raise doubts about the continuance of her lifestyle.  She never seems to worry about having the funds to procure pain pills in Tijuana, and she never entertains the possibility of a world without the invaluable assistance of her inexplicably loyal Hispanic maid and driver Silvana (Oscar nominee Adrianna Barraza).

Jennifer Aniston Cake

“Cake” is blind to another kind of chronic pain: poverty, which Silvana still lives in despite waiting on hand and foot for Claire with a saintly patience.  Silvana is allowed humanity and agency, which is more than can be said for many similar roles.  Her story is steamrolled in order to make way for the Jennifer Aniston vanity piece, however, and the marginalization of her perspective does the film a disservice.

Barrazza is the only character who gets an extended amount of time on screen with Aniston, as most others including Anna Kendrick and Sam Worthington pop in for what amount to little more than extended cameos.  “Cake” likely would have benefitted from a strong counterweight to the protagonist since Aniston plays Claire with all the exaggeration Cate Blanchett brought to “Blue Jasmine.”  Unlike Jasmine, though, Claire lacks a dimension of literary-style tragedy to make the grandiosity sing or allow intriguing tensions to surface.  Watching her use and abuse everyone in her life to thwart her own improvement gets old quickly.  C+ /2stars



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