This is the one they had been talking about during awards season, the one that could have possibly earned crowd-favourite actress Jennifer Aniston her first golden man. Cake is the story of a woman suffering from chronic pain following her son’s death in a freak car accident, and finding it infinitely hard to adapt to normalcy. At first glance, it appears to be the award-baiting boring story about disease or depression that most actors flock toward in the last laps of their career. While the former might be true to an extent, there is no denying that the incredibly nuanced performance by the lead actress is the role of her career.
I do not know what my expectations were, sitting in to watch this film whose title and poster both scream sorrow for sorrow’s sake, all of which to be resolved with a bright finish. But I do know what I did receive in this intentionally unglamorous package: a strangely endearing broken woman who deserved a far better film to reside in. Jennifer Aniston’s Claire is a considerably well-off lawyer who seems to have made it her prime motive to spread her pain to others around her. And for this reason, she is hated and alienated by the neighbours and friends (any she might have had) alike. She is incredibly stubborn, careless about her ways and constantly floating in and out of hallucination induced by the drugs she chugs daily. Claire’s companion is her maid Silvana, a motherly Mexican woman who cares for her despite all that I listed above. The character of Claire is deeply layered and probably the reason behind the title, and Aniston just as easily steps into her shoes as she did Rachel’s from Friends to make it her own. I honestly cannot think of another actress that could have pulled this off, her immaculately timed delivery and emotional plays rendering even such a hateable character as quirky and likeable once you look past the scars.
The thought that leaps into mind is indeed ‘scarred’, for both physically and mentally Claire has been subjected to immense pain and tragedy, coming out none prettier. There is a conscious effort apparent on screen to shed Aniston of all her Hollywood glamour and smile, and in its place are a washed out face, chubby physique and a grim mouth that utters words like poison. In fact, there is not much to talk about or appreciate here apart from this character, a woman who is both scared and scary at the same time. Take Claire out of the equation and there is no film: and that is precisely why I say that Aniston’s masterpiece still thirsts just desserts. Her intricate character is revealed not in her scars and unkempt hair, but in glances and desperate cries that exude her superficial annoyance. The film does cleverly place powerful moments to build this character, through inane sex and smuggling drugs, and it is in those secret moments that we see Claire’s weak soul that’s cowering behind her nastiness. It is immensely commendable the way Aniston sinks deep within her characters and immediately connects to the others. This connection is made felt on each of our minds and hearts as every groaning movement Claire takes its toll on us, the viewer; we feel each uncomfortable stretch, each throbbing headache and the pain is sadly not reflected in the atmosphere. The true heart of the otherwise frustrating film is in the special relationship shared by Claire and Silvana, and the little moments of bleak, at times even humorous sensation. The duo works really well together, most of which is owed to both actors’ ability to incalculably relate and build past relationships with one another.
Now that I have paid due respect to the masterful performance by Aniston, there are quite a few things that frustrate me in Cake. Right off the bat, the supposed male lead of the film Roy, played to a one-tone by Sam Worthington is uninteresting to his core, and the only reason anyone seems to tolerate his speech is his strong Aussie accent. If Aniston’s performance is the eponymous ‘cake’, then Worthington’s is mouldy bread. Seriously, every moment that there is an attempt at building a connection between the two characters seems awkward and this is more so because of the chemistry that Aniston is desperately grasping at. The only other character that brings any sort of flair to their performance is Felicity Huffman as the leader of Claire’s support group and even that perhaps salvageable relation was not taken further. Devoid of any relatable fleshed out characters to surround Claire, the film falls flat on all its themes.
Even the hallucinations where Claire starts to see the late Nina taunting her seemed promising when I heard about it, but translates very badly to screen. The execution of these trances were not well, particularly Anna Kendrick’s snooty and strange portrayal of the dead girl seems disjoint and taking away from the otherwise meditative experience. The direction and other technical efforts made while not unique, were not shabby and did add to the air carried by the film. It’s inexplicable how much this film seems to reek of dullness and not-so-pleasant awkwardness, and wholly uninteresting. The one thing I can say is that save for Aniston (Claire) and Adriana (Silvana) the performances are abysmal and really brings down the limit Claire’s character could have inspired the movie. This is not a movie I would recommend everyone to watch, I who found it boring and obviously depressing, all of which was compromised in the end with one accident which makes her see the brightness, or whatever it was. While I’m sure there are many who enjoy these types of movies, it is not something I need to see more of, and in fact does nothing impressive. But it is indeed tragic that Aniston’s lifetime performance, which deserves way more attention than it is, would go unnoticed and lost in all this mess.