Cake sees former Friends star, Jennifer Aniston, try the Matthew McConaughey school of transitions. You know the one; having been making good money and box office pull with by-the-numbers romantic comedies they look to more ‘serious’ roles to demonstrate their acting chops. There is one huge oversight in all of this of course; that if you can do comedy, and there’s no doubting Aniston can, then there really is little doubt you can also do more serious roles.
In this case Aniston plays Claire, a drug-addicted, foul-mouthed, angry woman suffering from chronic pain. When one of her fellow chronic pain support group members, in the shape of an ever-grinning Anna Kendrick, kills herself and starts appearing in Claire’s drug-fuelled hallucinations things seem to take a turn for the worse. But, with the help of her longer suffering carer Silvana (Adriana Barraza), Claire tracks down the girl’s husband Roy (Sam Worthington) and the pair soon strike up a friendship based around their own hatred for the world.
Cake is never an easy watch, especially if you have ever suffered from any kind of back pain. Aniston injects cringe worthy levels of believable agony into Claire’s every movement that will have you wincing with every move she makes. It’s a solid little drama with a layer of comedy often deriving from Aniston’s dry, hostile, delivery.
As we follow Claire through her life, at first seeking new ways of getting her hands on drugs, it soon becomes clear that this is a woman not only on the edge but terrifyingly intellect. She lies with ease, intimidates at will and manipulates with the bat of an eyelid. The intelligence of writer Patrick Tobin’s script is that Claire is always an appealing, if not always likable, character. There is a level of damaged goods on display, a woman constantly on the edge and toying with suicide.
As the story unfolds, at an often leisurely pace, we learn more and more about Claire’s past; how she became this way, why she’s so horribly bitter at the world but perhaps more than anything why she cannot quite bring herself to end it all given that is clearly what she wants.
It doesn’t always work, the middle act dragging in an attempt to find a plot point to grab on to and some characters, like Tomorrowland’s Britt Robertson, feel like little else other than catalysts for the next step in Claire’s journey. But it is held together by a genuinely affecting performance from Aniston. You will her to be better than what we see, you feel for her when she seems so lost and alone in the world, even while she is spitting bile and venom at all around her. It is by no means an Oscar worthy performance but it demonstrates another arrow to Aniston’s quiver of talents.
A bitter icing gives way to a gooey and enjoyable centre for this Cake.