EVERY OSCAR season there are a few awkward films - often war movies or about mental or physical illness - that have clearly been produced and planned as a vehicle for an actor who feel s/he is due an award.
Think Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side or Charlize Theron in Monster. Both of those films were produced by the actor they were promoting and both went on to win Best Actress. Cake is Jennifer Aniston’s attempt, and, like Bullock and Theron, she is also a producer here. It is a story about pain, loss, and suffering. Perfect for awards season, but is it any good?
Aniston plays Claire, a woman suffering from chronic pain. She is scared, figuratively and literally, after a car crash that took the life of her young child and subsequently ended her marriage. It opens with her being kicked out of her support group for making disrespectful remarks about the suicide of Nina, Claire’s friend and one the group’s former members, played in flashback by the always great Anna Kendrick.
Claire is abrasive with a cruel wit. Taking the brunt of that abuse is the only person in Claire’s life, an elderly Mexican lady who is her long suffering carer. Claire also struggles to keep her prescriptions filled to stop the crippling pain, and after being abandoned by her support group she contemplates suicide. This leads her to Roy, Nina’s husband. Over time they begin a relationship from where she may begin to see some light at the end of her tunnel.
Aniston’s biggest problem since Friends is probably that she keeps trying. When you are in one of the biggest TV shows of all time it is almost impossible to have any kind of a career after. The five other cast members have had some limited success in recent years mainly on the small screen - particularly Lisa Kudrow in the most recent iteration of The Comeback and Matt LeBlanc in Episodes. Both deliver fine performances but are basically playing versions of themselves; Kudrow, a typecast ageing actress and LeBlanc an idiot man child trying to reinvent himself on an American version of a British sitcom.
Both have certainly been successful, with LeBlanc winning a golden globe and Kudrow being nominated for numerous gongs, but Aniston has persevered with film, a medium that has not been good to her. She has had one or two good performances in great movies - The Good Girl and Office Space spring to mind - but generally she has struggled to find characters that suited her as well as Rachel Green. Here Aniston is certainly giving it a real go but is let down by an average screenplay and a earnest, but limited, director.
The problem with Cake is that it lacks any real substance. Claire’s scars are not as disfiguring as they could have been and there is a strong suspicion the film is protecting Jennifer Aniston’s image rather than really letting her sink her teeth into an Oscar worthy role. This movie is too safe to be anything interesting and too unpleasant to be anything more than an overhyped vehicle for sometimes good, but more often average, actress.