REVIEW: Cake

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).

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Random Factoid #572

19 01 2015

Welp, the Oscar nominations have been announced, and it looks like Jennifer Aniston is going to have to try again if she wants people to start calling her “Academy Award nominee Jennifer Aniston.”  (For what it’s worth, I am seeing “Cake,” her failed awards vessel, tomorrow night.)

A lot of people have hurled ridicule at Aniston for her formulaic rom-coms or her tabloid personality.  Some of the vitriol resembles the phenomenon of “Hatha-hate,” the extreme and baseless revulsion towards Anne Hathaway. I have certainly been critical of some of her less than stellar roles like the ones in “Just Go With It” or “The Bounty Hunter.”  For the latter title, I began my review with this sentence: “Have you ever watched a movie and wondered what could make an actor’s standards drop so low?”

But I have also noted Aniston’s slow move towards quality, such as her roles in “Horrible Bosses” and “We’re The Millers,” which are at least attempting to do something out of the ordinary.  Moreover, I featured an Aniston title in my “F.I.L.M. of the Week” column that highlights lesser-known films: “Friends with Money,” a superb indie that should have provided her with more credibility as a respectable actress.  (I thought I had written about “The Good Girl,” but I guess I did not.)

If I am just being honest, though, Aniston’s lasting impact for me consists of two scenes in two mediocre films, “The Break-Up” and “He’s Just Not That Into You.”  For whatever reason, the illustrations her characters give of complex situations are infinitely reusable and applicable to daily life.  Just ask anyone who knows me well, I have probably quoted one of these two scenes to them.

“I want you to want to do the dishes” works great when trying to explain that you desire a genuine gesture, not an empty one.

And “I just need you to stop being nice to me unless you’re going to marry me” works well for flaky, noncommittal people outside the realm of marriage and courtship.

I also love the line from “He’s Just Not That Into You” where Aniston is told by a friend, in a supposed gesture of comfort, “There are many people who never get married – look at Al Pacino, never been married, happy as a clam!”  And Aniston, flabbergasted, responds, “Would I be Al Pacino in this scenario?”  I also tend to feel like the Al Pacino in plenty of supposedly helpful illustrations about my life, though maybe that will change one day.