Cake (R) ★★★

Jennifer Aniston stars in "Cake." Photo credit: Cinelou Films.
Jennifer Aniston stars in “Cake.” Photo credit: Cinelou Films.

Cake Reveals Jennifer Aniston’s Many Layers

Jennifer Aniston has been America’s ‘the girl next door’ thanks to her breakthrough in the universally adored sitcom, “Friends.” Although a title like America’s Sweetheart may seem only complimentary, Aniston has struggled to be taken seriously by film critics throughout her entire career. However, her latest performance in the dark, drama Cake proves that the wait was worth it.

Directed by Daniel Barnz (Beastly, 2011) and written by Patrick Tobin, this film takes the cake for it’s raw, unapologetic look at a woman suffering from debilitating chronic pain and unresolved grief. Claire Bennett (Jennifer Aniston, Horrible Bosses 2, 2014) is sour, sarcastic and, at times, intolerable. She attends a chronic pain support group in which the leader (Felicity Huffman, Rudderless, 2014) suggests that she find a new group that may be more open to her blunt personality and erratic behavior. Her many painkillers are what help Claire get through each day, and she will persuade just about anyone to help her get a hold of more meds to feed her addiction. Despite her crassness, we discover that Claire formed a connection with a 31-year old group member Nina Collins (Anna Kendrick, Into the Woods, 2014). Their relationship was short-lived, however, as audiences find out early on that Nina jumped off of the side of an overpass and killed herself. Although Nina is gone, she still appears…through Claire’s drug-induced hallucinations.

Nina emerges in several random instances, which leads audiences to believe that Claire is hallucinating. While Nina helps to provide some context to the story and Claire’s past, the information is not impactful enough to warrant her inclusion in the story. Nina’s fantasy visits filled with catty conversation become distracting at times. Information about Claire’s past isn’t revealed until later in the film. One would think this draws in more suspense, but, in this case, the lack of information makes the film feel more drawn out.

This heavy film boasts a deeply felt performance from Aniston, in fact, her best work to date. Evident scars on her face, neck and leg suggest a traumatic accident, while her recoil from society and lack of effort in personal appearance implies a multi-layered grief and depression. She’s stiff and slow in her movements and must always be reclined in a car seat. It’s clear that Aniston poured her heart and soul into this uncharacteristic, unflattering role.

As with most of the supporting cast, Kendrick doesn’t receive much face time, but as mentioned earlier, her relevance is questionable in the first place. Huffman, as the group leader, has limited screen time as well. Claire unconventionally develops a non-romantic relationship with Nina’s widowed husband Roy (Sam Worthington, Sabotage, 2014), which adds some flavor to the dark script, but not enough. Claire relies on her saint-like housekeeper Silvana (Adriana Barraza, Night Has Settled, 2014) for everything – from making a hearty Mexican meal to driving her to Tijuana to smuggle Percocets and any other prescription she can get her hands on. Silvana is Claire’s rock, whether she’d like to admit it or not and this relationship is the most organic of the bunch.

While some could compare Aniston’s approach to her role to that of Julianne Moore’s in the highly acclaimed Still Alice, they both display their utmost talent in their own right. However, as far as comparing the overall movie experience, Still Alice has a more developed story.

Even in the most unflattering light, you can’t take your eye off of Aniston. Her striking performance has been acknowledged by the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild as she received Best Actress nominations for the role. This film proves that Aniston’s had the acting ingredients all along she just needed the right recipe.

Bottom-Line? Cake may be for an audience with an acquired taste. While quite obvious, it’s still worth noting that this is not an uplifting film. This is also not a first date, or any kind of date film for that matter. Although it may not have the plot to match, Aniston is marvelous. Ladies, grab your girls and some wine and go see Aniston’s best work to date. Even in the most unflattering light, you still can’t take your eyes off of her.

Cast: Jennifer Aniston (Claire Bennett), Adriana Barraza (Silvana) Chris Messina (Jason Bennett), Anna Kendrick (Nina Collins), Sam Worthington (Roy Collins), Felicity Huffman (Annette), William H. Macy

Credits: Directed by Daniel Barnz; written by Patrick Tobin

Studio: Cinelou Films

Run Time: 98 minutes

Jessica Aymond © January 24, 2015