Cake (2015)

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“Will you forgive me?”

No, I cannot. Yes, I’m sure I’ll pass on dessert. Cake is a stalemate chess match. On one side we have a full set of 16 pieces. And on the other is Jennifer Aniston – alone as the king – moving back and forth, side to side, unwilling to risk elimination through inching square by square towards the emotional pawns in her path. Those are the front lines guarding the rest of the story: the supporting players, tone, purpose, message. Everything lies right behind those eight sacrificial pieces. But those walls aren’t broken down. Cake is a meaningless, subdued film centered around a leading lady who is more of a caricature than she is an actual character.

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Claire Bennett (Aniston) attends a chronic pain support group at the suggestion of her physician. Facial scars and physical discomfort show us, from plain sight, that she’s been through an extremely traumatic event. The group’s focus is on Nina (Anna Kendrick), a 30-year-old mother and spouse who recently threw herself off the California interstate, specifically where the 110 and 105 meet. All of the women remember her fondly, offering reassurance and forgiveness to a blown up photo of Nina. Except for Claire, who applauds Nina, saying she likes when suicides don’t make it easy on survivors. She’s heartless, cruel, unforgiving, and just as acerbic as her disposition is acidic. What an unlikable and unsympathetic character she is…spending 100 minutes with her is nearly unbearable.

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Nina quickly becomes the focus of Claire’s incapacitated existence. She sees Nina in dreams (which are painfully executed and hard to watch) and even visualizes the deceased woman in her daily life. Claire is troubled, possibly contemplating her own demise, and wants to know what was going on in Nina’s head and her life. That’s why she decides to randomly show up at Nina’s home to surprise her widowing husband Roy (Sam Worthington) and his son. This plot device doesn’t work, and neither does the rest of the movie, because it infuriatingly refuses to buff out its mechanical sheen to reveal any illusion or shred of humanity. Claire has been through hell. There’s no denying that. Yet, like the rest of the characters, she stands in the shallow end of the pool. The combination of so-so directing and a thoughtless script makes for a film still searching for purpose long after it has ended. You’re more likely to get emotional watching a Budweiser Clydesdale commercial.

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As Claire, Aniston is believable and little more. Most of her time on-screen is spent doing one of two things. 1. Scouring through her fancy home for bottles of pain killers and 2. Wincing like a woman in labor. Aniston is a fine actress, but it’s her incredible charisma that draws you in. Movies that deal with tragic events and loss have to gain the audience’s sympathy. Take Rabbit Hole for example, a great film with a story angle similar to this. The characters do some bad things, not because they are bad or mean, but because they’re hurting. Cake is a pride parade for the actress and everyone involved in this uneventful drama. Claire’s biggest achievement / change / growth is literally sitting up in the passenger seat of her car rather than her usual fully reclined position. That’s not brave. It’s the pull of a lever, and for the audience it’s an ejection seat from this gruelingly miserable film. Earlier in the movie Nina’s husband Roy tells Claire what he thought about his wife’s suicide note (see below). That about sums up Cake.

“It’s not very original.”

Rating: 1 out of 5

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