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Thursday, September 28, 2023

Life + Arts

‘Cake’ has some sweetness, but isn’t wholly delicious

cakeClaire Bennett (Jennifer Aniston) is a woman who’s dependent on her hired help Silvana (Adriana Barraza) and her medication. She raids her own house, searching everywhere to find just one pain pill that she can take.

She’s part of a women’s support group, and at her latest meeting, the discussion is about their fellow group member Nina (Anna Kendrick), who recently committed suicide. Claire latches on to Nina’s death and allows it to take a major toll on her life. Things get odd when Claire shows up at Nina’s house, converses with her husband Roy (Sam Worthington) and spends time with their child.

Soon after, Claire sees Nina beside her bed and has a conversation with her. Nina’s imagined presence holds significance for Claire, prompting her to spend more time around Roy and stray somewhat away from her drug use.

“Cake” is a small film that has garnered large attention because of the film’s lead actress, Jennifer Aniston. Most widely known for her role as Rachel from “Friends”, Aniston has been steadily redefining herself by starring in more comedies like the “Horrible Bosses” films and the smash hit “We’re The Millers.” Now, she’s getting back into drama and is making some waves in Hollywood with this performance. She’s pretty good, but the film isn’t on the same level.

Contrasting her bubbly image from the 90s, Aniston ditches her makeup, achieves a painful level of desperation and yearning for help and fully displays her range of emotions. It’s tough to watch the pain on Aniston’s face as she struggles to move around, and it’s even worse when she frantically searches for her pills. Her sassy and rude attitude is a barrier she puts up to shield herself. She’s attached to her old life, but she’s also trying to move on — and into someone else’s, which only complicates things more.

Sam Worthington and Anna Kendrick play smaller roles in this film, but that doesn’t account for their significance. Worthington and Aniston form a bond through their sorrow over Kendrick’s death, and their relationship is one of emotional comfort between two people who understand each other. Kendrick pops up as a figment of Aniston’s imagination, seeming to taunt her at first, but later serves as a way for Aniston to express how she feels and how her suicide affected her.

Director Daniel Barnz and screenwriter Patrick Tobin put a lot into Aniston’s character, but they do leave a lot to be desired with the other characters and the progression of the story. Aniston’s performance is great, whereas everything else is only OK. There are moments when this film crosses into the Lifetime zone and becomes frustratingly simple. You’re never surprised at what happens in the story, but if you’re ever caught off-guard, it’s when the film decides to justify its title. The “Cake” tie-in makes you question why they didn’t go with any other title.

“Cake” is a strong showcase for a dramatic Jennifer Aniston that many people haven’t experienced. It also has some good supporting performances, but falls a bit short when it comes to the story and how it progresses. The attention Aniston has drawn is certainly warranted, and it’s great to see her succeed in a strong female leading role. The film’s take on drug abuse and dependency is also well-done. It’s not an outstanding film, but it’s definitely worth watching.

“Cake” is now playing in Houston.

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