The Movie Waffler New Release Review - <i>CAKE</i> | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - CAKE

A year after a traumatic accident, a lawyer is left with scars both physical and psychological.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Daniel Barnz

Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Adriana Barraza, Anna Kendrick, Sam Worthington, Mamie Gummer, Felicity Huffman, William H. Macy, Chris Messina, Lucy Punch

Ending your movie with a moody acoustic cover version of a previously poppy hit has become one of recent cinema's most annoying trends. Accompanying the end credits of Daniel Barnz Oscar bait study of grief and loss we get Snow Patrol's Gary Lightbody covering Beyonce's 'Halo'. It's a fitting summation of the movie itself, one that never makes up its mind as to whether it's a light comedy drama in the James L Brooks vein or a brooding indie misery fest. The resulting movie feels like it's being played on instruments it wasn't composed for.
A deglammed Jennifer Aniston is Claire, a financially well-off LA lawyer left with physical, emotional and psychological scars a year after being involved in a traumatic accident. Suffering from chronic back pain, Claire relies on her Mexican housekeeper Silvana (Barraza), who now doubles as her chauffeur. When we first meet our protagonist she's being dismissed from a counselling group for chronic pain sufferers after making a crack at the expense of a former member of the group (Kendrick) who jumped to her death from an elevated freeway. Exploring the possibility of suicide as an option herself, Claire visits the dead girl's home, believing she was visited by her ghost. There she meets the girl's husband (Worthington; remember him?) and the two bond in shared grief.
This was originally billed as Aniston's big push for an Oscar, but we know how that worked out. Thanks to her physical appearance here, she'll attract more interest than usual, but the fact is Aniston has always been a perfect fine actress; it's the movies she's picked that have let her down. The highlight of her career came 13 years ago opposite Jake Gyllenhaal in The Good Girl, but since then she's delivered dignified performances in some very undignified roles. Cake is no different. Aniston is too good for the badly constructed character she's asked to play here, one of those grumpy narcissistic protagonists that have been in vogue since Jack Nicholson won plaudits for his turn in As Good As It Gets.
Despite our awareness of her suffering, it's difficult to care about Claire, and the movie's more likeable supporting characters are given such short shrift that you wonder why they were written into the film in the first place. The film's handling of Claire's situation frequently borders on bad taste, veering between Libertarian criticism of medicine and support groups, and Conservative shaming of suicide victims, and the movie's final shot is especially patronising to anyone with the misfortune of finding themselves in Claire's position.