Oscar-buzz or Oscar bait?
Driven by a surprisingly powerful performance from Jennifer Aniston, Cake doesn’t really earn its stripes as a veritable Oscar contender, despite often feeling like that was the sole purpose behind it.Indeed it’s a shame that the film so earnestly strives to earn its star some latter-day credibility – in a career stuffed to absolute breaking point with the equivalent to Adam Sandler’s trademark movies (and that’s almost more of a compliment than some of Aniston’s filmography deserves) – because the truth is that it has plenty of potential to impress without being just an Oscar campaign.The tale posits Aniston as a weary, broken and supremely bitter individual who attends chronic pain group therapy and spits bile at just about anyone and anything she encounters. She’s got an ex-husband, and probably plenty of ex-friends somewhere, and has a maid/carer who goes above and beyond to tolerate her. And the only thing she appears to take an interest in is the apparent suicide of one of the members of her group.
Aniston does a solid job in the lead role, although being a world-class b*tch doesn’t always feel all that far from her comfort zone, and the story manages to avoid spoon-feeding you every revelation, instead allowing your discoveries about this character to feel a little more natural. In fact it’s probably of particular credit to the filmmakers that they not only manage to elicit such an impressive performance from Aniston (who hasn’t come anywhere near this quality of material since The Good Girl) but also from Sam Worthington (whose indie work, in films like this and Texas Killing Fields, appears to be so much more tolerable than his blockbuster fare). Perhaps they shouldn’t have populated quite so many supporting roles with actors known more for their comedic work (and the hallucinations are a wildly out of place misstep) but the acerbic wit is often a saving grace in what is otherwise quite a suffocating piece – as is only appropriate given the melancholy work.
It may not quite play its cards right in every respect, making a few missteps along the way, but it certainly maintains your interest throughout.
There’s plenty to appreciate in Cake, which makes for an invested, at times even powerful dissection of loss, depression and sheer pain. It has some moving moments and a biting wit; strong and often surprising performances and a commanding lead.
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