Movie Review: ‘CAKE’ Can’t Rise Above Aniston’s Sour Performance

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Cole Clay // Film Critic

CAKE | 102 min. | Rated R
Director: Daniel Barnz
Stars: Jennifer Aniston, Adriana Barraza, Anna Kendrick, Sam Worthington, Mamie Gummer, Felicity Huffman, William H. Macy and Chris Messina

Last year the marvelous action movie EDGE OF TOMORROW: LIVE.DIE. REPEAT. showed the grating effects of living the same day over and over. Tom Cruise was battling an army of aliens hell-bent on world domination, but he at least was granted the serenity of dying every once in a while. This is not the case for Jennifer Aniston’s character who suffers from chronic pain in the dramatic film by Daniel Barnz (WON’T BACK DOWN) titled CAKE.

Claire (Aniston) essentially lives the same day over and over, shifting from her bed to her pool, where she stiffly floats fully clothed. And to top it all off, she likes to pop Percocet and Vicodin. We find out in the opening she is nearly impossible to deal with as she voices her nihilistic viewpoints in a support ground for women dealing with chronic pain. The group is mourning the loss of Nina (Anna Kendrick), who hurled herself from an interstate bridge one month prior. Claire isn’t interested in getting better in any capacity; she wants to scorn all those who surround her existence she deems as miserable. We can’t help but wonder if she will succumb to the same fate as Nina.

The only person who can tolerate this “rich white lady” as a dodgy Mexican pharmacist put’s it is her house-keeper Silvana (Adrianna Barraza). The two go on some misadventure where Silvana gets the privilege of dealing with the former lawyer who relishes in voicing that sharp tongue that provided her the means to live in the suburban sanctuary where she lives. Aniston is the one who received some awards buzz for this performance, and this is her film, but Barraza’s voice deserves to be heard as well.

Jennifer Aniston and Chris Messina star in "CAKE." Photo courtesy of Cinelou Releasing.

Jennifer Aniston and Chris Messina star in CAKE. Photo courtesy of Cinelou Releasing.

The main crux of the film is Claire trying to get over her divorce from her husband (an underused Chris Messina) and the death of her son brought on by a car crash. Screenwriters love to use off-screen deaths of children as a device to pull emotions from the audience. Now if screenwriter Patrick Tobin (NO EASY WAY, 1996) would have scribbled a puppy death in there then, we could cue the water works, but all we get is this recycled plot line.

I can’t be too harsh on this film because it’s an earnest portrayal that demands the audience to reckon with these issues, especially since Barnz is consistently putting films about women on screen. Other than the quietly bubbly scenes with Nina’s widower Roy (Sam Worthington), the majority of the film is repetitive navel-gazing.

Aniston made the choice not to wear makeup in the film, you can still see her tabloid quality good looks, minus the scars that lay waste to her face. She creakily moves about groaning with every small movement. It’s her body language that completely sells the performance. Too bad the other variables in the film don’t rise to her level.

CAKE opens today.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.