Wednesday, January 21, 2015

“Cake”– Movie Review



This week, I attended a screening by The New York Times Film Club of the new drama “Cake”, starring Jennifer Aniston.


When a woman tries to physically recover from an accident, she becomes addicted to painkillers – but will she be able to emotionally recover as well or succumb to suicide?


Claire (Aniston) is appropriately enrolled in a Chronic Pain therapy group – she has both physical and psychological pain that she’s encountering difficulty healing.  Using Percoset to handle her physical pain, her addiction to it causes her to use the dangerous prescription drug to treat her psychological pain as well.  The automobile accident that left Claire extensively scarred on her body and in her mind also took the life of her young son; the after-effects of this also left her marriage in a shambles and she now finds herself living alone with just her housekeeper Silvana (Adriana Barraza) to occasionally look in on her. 

Embittered, Claire succeeds in mistreating nearly everyone around – her husband, Silvana and her fellow patients in the Chronic Pain group.  In the therapy, the group discusses the recent loss of one of their members, Nina (Anna Kendrick), who committed suicide in a rather grisly fashion.  While other members of the group speak of their hurt over Nina’s death, a hardened Claire merely wishes to recount the gruesome details of Nina’s demise, which only causes everyone else to be upset.  As a result of her inappropriate outburst, the therapist informs Claire that she has been expelled from the group.  

Although she was not particularly close to Nina, Claire seems strongly effected by her death – so much so that Nina’s ghost appears to be haunting her.  Initially, Nina comes to Claire in nightmares, but the apparitions become so intense and so realistic that Claire begins to have visions during her waking hours.  The more Nina’s spirit visits her, the more Claire grows convinced that Nina is trying to talk her into committing suicide as well.  But without any form of a support system around her, will Claire decide to kill herself or can she summon the will to overcome her pain and survive? 


While there may be some reviews that will give in to the temptation to say things like, “Cake is stale” or “Cake is a half-baked idea”, a less facile response to the movie might well point to its real culprit, the screenplay.  Although Aniston, who is also credited as being Executive Producer on the film, puts in about as good a performance as possible with the material at hand, she’s not able to elevate the quality.  “Cake” has a script which seems either one draft away or missing some key scenes (it’s unclear which – quite possibly both). 

There are ideas that go undeveloped or under-developed and leave you wondering exactly what the purpose was here.  So many things are touched on that the story can only treat any of them in the most superficial manner possible.  The main one being what causes Claire to eventually make the decision she does in the film’s resolution.  We are told that Claire is (was?) a lawyer, but we don’t know what her situation is at work; presumably, her injuries have resulted in her taking long-term disability, but no mention is made of where she stands with that or if it’s even an issue.  Apparently, Claire was a reasonably successful lawyer because she has a lovely home with an in-ground swimming pool, a housekeeper and gardener (with whom she has the occasional awkward tryst).   

As much as Claire seems to be beaten up and tormented, however, it remains difficult for the audience to truly root for her to succeed because the journey on which she’s been for the past hour and a half of screen time isn’t particularly cathartic or transforming.  The gruff but loveable victim, we are to believe, somehow has an epiphany that thrusts her in a certain direction.  Although “Cake” certainly has a clear and unambiguous ending, it is nevertheless unsatisfying on some level because we don’t feel a truly organic metamorphosis has occurred in the lead character. 

Cake (2014) on IMDb

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