by Hope Madden
Jennifer Aniston has spent the last couple years shedding her golden-girl-next-door image with bawdy comedy roles in the Horrible Bosses franchise and We Are the Millers, as well as a handful of indie flicks. Through the journey she’s successfully mined new area in comedy, but her latest, Cake, shows she has unplumbed depths of talent in drama as well.
Aniston plays Claire. Suffering with chronic pain as well as deep emotional scars, Claire is a self-described raging bitch. Acid tongued and brutally frank, she’s not a favorite with her support group. Or with her physical therapist. Or with much of anybody, really, until she develops an unlikely (and highly contrived) relationship with the widower of another support group member (Sam Worthington).
The film, directed by Daniel Barnz (Beastly), wants to meander through Claire’s unconventional journey, allowing events and details to evolve sloppily, as they do in life. But it doesn’t succeed. Instead, it creates a highly unlikely series of coincidences and relies on Aniston’s formidable performance to make the linkages feel both natural and surprising.
He’s treading similar ground as John Cameron Mitchell’s poignant 2010 effort Rabbit Hole, but Cake suffers a great deal by comparison. Barnz and screenwriter Patrick Tobin are trying too hard. Their scenes feel forced, the relationships inauthentic.
Aniston, on the other hand, is as real as she can be. Her performance is unapologetic, as it should be. Grief isn’t flexible. It doesn’t change shape or appearance just to make the people around it more comfortable. Aniston understands this character, what she’s going through and why she’s behaving as she is, and she doesn’t judge her. More importantly, she doesn’t give a shit if you do.
Her supporting cast is stocked with talent, but only the great Adriana Barraza gets the opportunity to build a real character with a real relationship to Claire. And while even Aniston relies heavily on the words on the page, Barraza can convey everything she needs with a wearied look or a reluctant gesture.
We know Aniston’s cute, but the truth is, she has been proving herself a genuine talent for years. Unfortunately, she made far too many far too safe choices as the adorable romantic lead, and they did not pay off.
Now she’s taking real chances, and though Cake is not an exceptional film, Aniston’s performance is a revelation.