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Review: Jennifer Aniston’s ‘Oscar snub’ for ‘Cake’ may not be unwarranted (Includes first-hand account)

When horrible things happen to some people, their chief coping mechanism is to shut down and shut everyone out. When that terrible thing is prolonged with no end in sight, that bitterness settles in and appears equally endless. In Cake, a venomous woman suffering from chronic pain finally sees the light at the end of the tunnel when someone she knows dies by suicide.

Claire (Jennifer Aniston) is a chronic pain sufferer. Her visible but non-disfiguring scars indicate she was in an accident, which affects her ability to walk, sit, sleep or do anything in general. She pops prescription painkillers like they’re candy and washes them down with wine. She regularly attends a support group and physiotherapy, though neither is making any improvement. Claire’s driven away her husband (Chris Messina), ensuring she lives a solitary existence save for her maid, Silvana (Adriana Barraza), who attends to her every need acting as chauffeur, cook, housekeeper and secret caregiver. The one thing the unemployed lawyer does not appear to have to worry about is money. When Nina (Anna Kendrick), a member of her support group, takes her life, Claire becomes oddly fascinated with her and the loved ones she’s left behind. Seeking out Nina’s husband, Roy (Sam Worthington), he and Claire find a kinship in their anger and resentment of the world.

The film begins during the first support group meeting after Nina’s death. They are performing an exercise in which the counsellor (Felicity Huffman) pretends to be Nina so people can tell the deceased how they feel about her suicide. Though Claire tries to abstain, she’s coaxed into participating; so she recounts the horrific and absurd details, shocking everyone and getting her unsurprisingly ejected from the group. This scene is a highlight of Claire’s personality and sets the tone for the rest of the film, in which she is unkind to almost everyone.

Jennifer Aniston and Sam Worthington star in  Cake

Jennifer Aniston and Sam Worthington star in ‘Cake’
D Films

Claire seems mean-spirited, but her friendship with Roy exposes the emotional pain she’s feeling because it’s mirrored in him. There are also glimpses of who she used to be throughout the picture, when she shows signs of vulnerability or caring before reverting to her standard acrimony. Between rom-coms, Aniston tends to squeeze in one of these more dramatic roles every couple of years. For this one she not only sheds her typical charm, but leaves any ego at the door regarding her physical appearance. Due to Claire’s limitations her hair is usually limp and oily, and she wears loose-fitting clothing and no make-up. She’s still Jennifer Aniston so she’s not wholly unattractive, but it is a departure.

One of the most powerful scenes in the film includes a cameo by William H. Macy and an explosive confrontation on Claire’s front lawn. Another features Silvana ranting in Spanish after she finally reaches her wits end taking care of Claire. That said, other than those mentioned, there isn’t a lot about this film that stands out. Claire’s imaginary conversations with Nina are sappy and not the best fit for the rest of the narrative as it feels like someone’s flipped the mood switch each time she appears. Moreover, the happenings in the film are somewhat haphazard and prevent it from flowing smoothly. Finally the progression of Claire’s character is predictable, even if she does keep it interesting.

There was a lot said about Aniston’s “Oscar snub,” but perhaps this role didn’t measure up to those of her peers who did receive nominations. While this is a great performance by the actress, it’s hard to ignore some of the picture’s other issues.

Director: Daniel Barnz
Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Adriana Barraza and Anna Kendrick

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Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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