Friday, January 23, 2015


Review by Milan Paurich

In CAKE, the first thing you notice is Jennifer Aniston’s hair. It’s definitely not The Rachel, the iconic hairdo Aniston popularized while starring as Rachel Green on the beloved NBC sitcom, “Friends.” The most remarkable thing about Aniston’s CAKE ‘do is how truly ghastly it is: you’d swear Claire Simmons (Aniston’s character) hadn’t even picked up a shampoo bottle in months.

The utter lack of vanity evinced by Aniston in Daniel Barnz’s new movie only begins with her hair. Physically and emotionally, Aniston has never been more nakedly, even brutally, exposed than she is playing chronic pain sufferer Claire. Aniston’s performance is remarkable on multiple levels, yet the lack of cosmetic niceties—beginning with, but not limited to said hair—is what initially draws you in. We’re simply not used to seeing one of our most glamorous stars reduced to a ratty housecoat as her principal wardrobe choice.

CAKE isn’t a great or even very good movie. Barnz, whose previous films include lachrymose tweener romance BEASTLY and the wretched “teacher unions are evil!” polemic WON'T BACK DOWN, is hardly a subtle or even particularly interesting director. He does very little with the camera, and his movies invariably look like middle of the road cable flicks. But Barnz clearly had a tonic effect on Aniston who delivers in spades with the best dramatic work of her career. (She’s always been a wonderfully deft, if frequently undervalued comic actress.)

Some of that credit rightfully belongs to screenwriter Patrick Tobin who’s written a juicy, refreshingly layered role for Aniston to sink her teeth in. On the surface—and for a good chunk of the running time—Claire is remarkably unsympathetic, even actively unpleasant. (She proudly describes herself, only half-jokingly, as a “raving bitch.”) Holed up in a suburban Los Angeles home with only Mexican immigrant housekeeper, Silvana (the wonderful Adriana Barraza of BABEL fame), as her sole companion, Claire is clearly suffering from something. There’s a weird facial scar, lots of prescription drugs and, from the look of things, Claire has been avoiding sunshine as assiduously as a “Twilight” heartthrob.

The survivor of a traffic accident that claimed her only child, Claire’s physical pain has clearly taken a psychic toll as well. Her survivor’s guilt has effectively pushed away her husband (the always welcome Chris Messina), and the support group she attends on a semi-regular basis only seems to piss her off more.

When a group member (played in flashbacks and not-always successful fantasy sequences by Anna Kendrick) commits suicide by jumping from a freeway overpass, Claire impulsively pays a visit to the dead woman’s husband (Sam Worthington). As the grieving widower, Worthington is so good—achingly vulnerable and unimpeachably virile at the same time—you wonder why his career didn’t take off after starring in Jim Cameron’s AVATAR.

Only gradually does Claire/Aniston allow the audience to warm up to her—which is only fitting since she does the same thing with the various people navigating her life, even those closest to her like Silvana and estranged husband Jason. While Barnz and Tobin allow the film to end on a note of cautious optimism, it feels less like a contrivance or cop out than a blessing. If there’s hope for a lost, wounded soul like Claire, maybe there’s hope for all of us. 2 1/2 out of 4 stars.

Postscript: Despite scoring SAG and Critics’ Choice Best Actress nominations for CAKE, Aniston, sadly, was shut out of the Oscar race. Most awards pundits theorized that surprise nominee Marion Cotillard took Aniston’s spot for her fine work in the Dardenne Brothers’ 2 DAYS, 1 NIGHT. But for me, the actress who stole Aniston’s slot was the undeserving, underwhelming Felicity Jones for a nondescript, “anybody-could-have-played-this-nothing-role” turn as Jane Hawking in the egregiously overrated THEORY OF EVERYTHING. Aniston may not be as fashionable as a twentysomething Brit flavor du jour, but hers was the (vastly) more compelling and accomplished 2014 performance. Judge for yourself by voting with a ticket to CAKE.

1 comment:

  1. I loved this movie, probably more than you did, Milan. But, I also liked The Theory of Everything.


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