Cake

Depressing but effective, if inconclusive.
★★★
Movie Review #1,020

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Freestyle Releasing
Drama
1 hour, 42 minutes
Rated R (language, substance abuse and brief sexuality)
Released January 23, 2015
Directed by Daniel Barnz
Screenplay by Patrick Tobin
Starring Jennifer Aniston, Adriana Barraza, Anna Kendrick, Sam Worthington, Mamie Gummer, Felicity Huffman, William H. Macy, Chris Messina, and Britt Robertson

I like cake. It doesn’t rank quite as high among my favorite dessert foods as crême brulée, but if it’s made right, it can be really good. In fact, I’ve eaten cake twice within the last week. My sister made me a chocolate bundt cake for my birthday, and it was so good that I ate a fifth of it before realizing it hadn’t been iced yet. I also had chocolate cake with popcorn ice cream at the famous Alamo Drafthouse Cinema a few days ago.

My point? A word like “cake” is very positive. I’m not exactly sure why Daniel Barnz would use it as the title for such a depressing film. It refers to a minor event in the movie that most of us won’t even remember. I can think of at least fifteen better one-word, four-letter titles that aren’t as much of a four-letter word as this one.

That’s the weakest thing “Cake” has to offer–its title. It’s definitely marked with other imperfections, as well. One of such is its inconclusive ending. Barnz has our attention through the whole film, but it’s not until the very end that we start to wonder if the film has actually gone somewhere. It seems that “Cake” ends on its most emotional note, rather than on its most logical. There’s an overwhelming “Huh?” when the movie cuts from its last shot–a wrenching, cathartic frame of Jennifer Aniston’s face–because the movie feels unfinished. We wonder what happens next, not because the film is thought-provoking (although it is indeed), but because Barnz has decided to close shop fifteen minutes early.

It’s a shame that the film ends just when we are most engaged in it. “Cake” betters every minute at gripping its audience. Seeing Jennifer Aniston sans makeup and in a tremendously solemn role is a bit off-putting at first, but we quickly begin to appreciate the lifelike degree that her performance reaches. Her portrayal of a woman with chronic pain disorder is a bit difficult to watch; she nearly makes her character’s pain tangible to the audience. Her obsessive desire to know more about the suicide of her best friend (Anna Kendrick, who makes in an unconvincing pair with Aniston in every possible way) adds a great deal of gravity to the movie. It’s really her performance that makes “Cake” worthwhile. You know how sometimes an actor or actress can “carry a movie”? Well, that certainly is the case here.

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