The 400-Word Review: Cake
By Sean Collier
February 9, 2015
Every year offers films that exist only as misguided attempts to score an Oscar for their stars, but 2014 brings a particularly disappointing example. Cake, starring Jennifer Aniston as a woman traversing just about every trauma one can name, is initially intriguing. Unfortunately, it ends up offering little before revealing itself as callous and hollow.
Claire (Aniston) is struggling with chronic pain resulting from a car accident that claimed the life of her young son. Estranged from her husband and reliant on painkillers, her only steady companion is housekeeper Silvana (Adriana Barraza). When Nina (Anna Kendrick), a young woman from her support group, commits suicide, Claire finds herself imagining confrontations with her ghost; each time, Nina’s specter urges Claire to take her own life as well. She seeks out Nina’s widower (Sam Worthington) in an attempt to free herself… or something. There are some interesting one-off scenes thrown in, but Cake invariably runs away from those to find some more messy nonsense to wallow in.
Woefully under-experienced screenwriter Patrick Tobin hurls nothing but misery at Claire, apparently chucking obstacles too quickly to notice that each is a little deus ex machina; there is no motivation or design to this tale, just a laundry list of problems. And Aniston, desperate to prove herself though she may be, is not up to the task of making this mess believable; while there is undoubtedly a part out there for the actress, I don’t believe it’s anything this heavy. (Or this stupid.)
Under the direction of Daniel Barnz — the teacher-hating jerk who wrote and directed 2012’s worst film, Won’t Back Down — the camera stumbles around each scene, gawking voyeuristically at Claire’s stumbles and (unmotivated) poor decisions. Many redemptive tales are subtle enough to convey a sense of sorrow at having to illustrate the low moments of their characters; Cake almost seems to sneer at Claire. Somehow, it feels as though the film is in line with Nina’s malicious ghost, urging Claire to off herself already, if only for the dramatic potential.
I’m trying to temper my reaction, as I’m biased by the fact that I really, really hated Won’t Back Down and am no great fan of Aniston’s (she’s occasionally funny and charming, but hopelessly addicted to picking the wrong parts). But despite strong work by Kendrick, Barraza, Huffman and Worthington, I can’t help but determine that there’s nothing below the surface.
My Rating: 3/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark