EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a capsule review. The full review will be released once the film hits theatres.
With its bitter-comic approach to heavy themes of suicide, addiction, and grief, and featuring the kind of protagonist that wins Sandra Bullocks Oscars, Cake makes itself available for holding at arm’s length. Its symbolism is heavy-handed from title card onward, plotting is incidental yet often contrived, and it’s hard to shake the feeling that the film is more about career therapy for a few of its stars than about seeking emotional truths.
It’d be more galling if that last part weren’t Cake‘s main feature instead of a bug. Jennifer Aniston stars as Claire Simmons, a scarred trauma survivor living with chronic pain. It’s a thoroughly abrasive role, one you could cynically call out as awards-bait if Aniston weren’t such a believable, attractive centre holding Cake together. She’s always been a gifted comedian, but Cake lets her tap into a vein of acerbic, angry humor that women rarely get to work with, yet she plays flawlessly. As Claire becomes obsessed with a woman from her support group who committed suicide (Anna Kendrick, popping in from the great beyond now and then to vex Claire), it forces her to face her drug dependence and withdrawn nature.
Aniston will be the one to talk about, and for good reason, but she’s backed by a small and very strong supporting cast. Sam Worthington should probably just play sad puppy single dads from now on, because he’s never been more convincing, or charming. And Adriana Barraza swipes a number of scenes out from under Aniston as Claire’s live-in caretaker. Cake actually does make the occasional detour into the lives of those supporting Claire, but this is Aniston’s party from the get-go. It’s a shame the film can’t highlight the strengths of its lead at the same time as telling an insightful story about the many demons haunting Claire, but taken purely as an acting showcase, Cake gets the job done.