Cake stars Jennifer Aniston as Claire, a woman who gets booted from her “support” group for women in chronic pain for being "insensitive." Claire develops a morbid fascination with the recent suicide of one of her support group members, Nina (Anna Kendrick). She goes to the spot of Nina’s suicide and befriends her widowed husband (Sam Worthington), all the while having dark, goading hallucinations of Nina.

We know from the beginning that there’s more to Claire’s story than just the accident that has left her with multiple scars and an addiction to painkillers. She gives away toys to her gardener and has a strained conversation with her separated husband (played by the always employed Chris Messina); by the time what actually happened to her is revealed, we’re left with a fairly standard story of a grieving woman.

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Cake is a film about an intense subject, but its attempted nuance leave only a mild impression. It’s unfortunate that this film never truly grasps the theme for which it’s reaching. Aniston’s performance is suitably difficult to watch; she carries herself firmly upright and walks tentatively, always in a balancing act with her pain.

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When Claire tries to be kind to someone—usually for her own benefit—we can see the physical strain in her face. Her expression hardly changes because of the amount of pain that would cause, but the smallest motions hint at the deep physical and emotional pain she’ going through.

Though Aniston’s performance is commendable (and undoubtedly drawn from several other similarly minimalist performances—Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole comes to mind), it’s not enough to carry the movie. Cake wants so much to be an unsentimental take on pain and grief, but by trying so hard to be understated, it barely scratches the surface. Claire’s emotional turmoil is the kind of thing that would elicit tears in real life, but it’s doubtful anyone would react so strongly in this case

The film also totally underutilizes the most interesting character in the film, Claire’s housekeeper and caretaker Silvana (Adriana Barraza). Silvana is cast unfortunately as a stereotype—a maid with a heart of gold—but the scenes with her and Claire veer into the simultaneously melodramatic and believable. Our glimpse into Silvana’s backstory, when she encounters old (and now wealthy) friends in Mexico, hints at an interesting discussion of race and class in and out of America that never gets explored.

Cake is worth seeing for Aniston’s performance, but that’s about it. Maybe wait until the inevitable web release for this one.

Image c/o  movienewz.com

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