Claire becomes fascinated by the suicide of a woman in her chronic pain support group while grappling with her own, very raw personal tragedy.
Everyone knows who Jennifer Aniston is. She played quirky and lovable Rachel in ‘Friends’ for 10 years but then she let the world know that she could play more than just offbeat and comical and proved it with her roles in movies like “The Good Girl” and “Derailed.” She has made more movies since but “Cake” is her breakout role, after 25+ years in the industry. I know that sounds strange but this is the first performance she has given that in my opinion, felt as close to real life than any other character she has ever portrayed. Now that’s not to say I want to see her do only serious roles like this from now on, on the contrary, she can continue to do funny and offbeat, as she does it so well but every now and then, it would be nice if she could slip into a movie like “Cake” and remind the world just how good she really is.
Here she plays Claire Bennett, a woman who attends a chronic pain support group. After having lost her only child in a car accident that has left her in severe persistent pain that only prescribed medications can help alleviate, she finds out that one of the women in her group, Nina (Anna Kendrick), has committed suicide and she begins to see her everywhere she goes, in her bedroom, in the swimming pool, at the hospital. While she tries to come to terms with this tragedy, she must also deal with her own personal struggles and conflicts. After the loss of her son, she pushes her husband away and out of the house and only her Mexican housekeeper, Silvana (Adriana Barraza), stays around to cook and take care of her. Curious as to what Nina’s life was like, she goes to her home where she meets her husband Roy (Sam Worthington).
They strike up an unlikely relationship and while they gradually feel a kinship with each other, having both lost someone very close to them, they never resort to intimacy. Claire starts out as blunt, impolite and conceited, so full of self-pity, that it takes seeing Roy and his son Casey (Evan O’Toole), grieving but getting on with their lives as best they can, in order for her to realize that it’s not all about her and that there are other people in the equation. The story is pretty straightforward, scenes of Claire struggling to move around and popping pills to help with the pain or making a quick trip across the border into Mexico to pick up some medications her doctor won’t prescribe but it is in these scenes, that she truly shines. With no glimpse of make-up and her ‘star’ persona stripped away, she finally shows the world what she is truly capable of.
Ms. Aniston takes the character of an everyday woman, a person who has suffered and is going through, life-altering scenarios on a daily basis, and makes you care about her. Even in the beginning when she is being verbally abusive to those who are trying to care for her, or making inappropriate comments to her fellow support group about Nina’s suicide, she still manages to elicit empathy and for a character that initially is very unlikable, that is no easy feat. Sam Worthington as Roy gives one of his best performances to date. He speaks with his own Australian accent and his performance is better because of it. Sometimes, an actor who has to fake an accent, their performance can suffer because they are putting so much emphasis on getting their inflection just right, they can forget to emote but here, Mr. Worthington underplays his role and truly shines.
But this is Jennifer Aniston’s movie. While surrounded by some great supporting actors such as the aforementioned Sam Worthington, Adriana Barraza and Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy, she gives a performance that is both focused and intense. When she is onscreen you cannot take your eyes off her and that’s what acting is all about, being afraid to look away in case you miss something, a glance, a gesture, and unlike many movies that start off strong only to end up unbelievably happily ever after, “Cake”, thankfully, doesn’t go down that road but it does help open Claire’s eyes to the fact that she is not the only person suffering and when she comes to that realization, we see a grin, albeit very slightly, make its way across her face and we know she is going to be okay. Highly recommended.
In select theaters January 23rd
For more info about James visit his website at www.irishfilmcritic.com