By the time you read this — assuming, of course, that you do read this — the movie "Cake" will have closed at AMC's River Park Square Cinemas. Apparently no one wanted to see Jennifer Aniston in a role where she wasn't hanging out in an apartment with her New York friends. Or something.
I reviewed the movie anyway for Spokane Pubic Radio. And, as it turns out, "Cake" will open at the Magic Lantern next Friday, Feb. 6. So you still have a chance to see it on a somewhat big screen. My review follows:
Imagine, if you can, what pain feels like. I don’t mean the physical pain of, say, a paper cut. Or the emotional pain caused by, say, not getting a promotion you were expecting. No, I mean real pain.
The kind of pain that is all-encompassing, the kind that physically makes every movement feel as if your bones are encased in razors digging deep into muscle tissue you didn’t even know you had. The kind of emotional pain that wakes you up at night and haunts you with regret.
That’s the kind of pain Claire Bennett feels. Every day and every night, every waking moment. And, as played by Jennifer Aniston, she understandably isn’t dealing with it well. Claire, whose finespun scars serve almost as pain-gang body tattoos, is the focus of the movie “Cake,” a film directed by Daniel Barnz that examines Claire as she trudges through her every-day existence.
The trudging involves her getting thrown out of a pain-support group for her bad attitude, specifically making snarky remarks about Nina, a former member who has committed suicide. It includes her abusing both legal and medical protocols to score pain-killers and anyone around her who tries to offer help, from her ex-husband to her physical therapist to her ever-faithful housekeeper Silvana (played by Adriana Barraza). Most tellingly, according to Patrick Tobin’s screenplay, it includes an attendant drug haze that not only has Claire communing with Nina – who, you’ll recall, is dead – but also seeking out Nina’s husband Roy (played by Australian actor Sam Worthington).
The problems presented by much of this are obvious. Fantasy sequences are hard to pull off, and Barnz – even when his film’s phantom is played by an actress as engaging as Anna Kendrick – doesn’t quite manage to rise above a coy sensibility to achieve full dramatic effect. Besides never making clear exactly what happened, Tobin’s script has Claire reaching out to Nina’s husband, which is mere plot device: Concerned about his young son, and still grieving over his own loss, a real Roy would be unlikely to subject himself to the emotional machinations of someone like Claire – even if she were played by Jennifer Aniston.
Worse, though, is the relationship between Claire and Silvana, which casts actress Barraza into the traditional Hollywood role of faithful – if, at times, perkily spicy – Latina servant. Which, when you think about it, is actually insulting.
What makes “Cake” work as well as it does has to do with Barnz’s sense of pacing, his ability to frame shots effectively and to meld smoothly from one sequence to the next. And then there’s the acting, from Worthington’s befuddled grief to Barraza’s ability to put character in a cliché. Most of all there’s Aniston, proving once again that she’s far more than Rachel Green, the comic foil she played on the ever-popular sitcom “Friends.”
“Cake,” which played for a single week at AMC River Park Square, is slated to open next Friday at the Magic Lantern. Even given the film’s faults, I have to admit I liked “Cake.” And that, film fans, is as painful as my film-critic confessions get.