Thursday, January 22, 2015

Jennifer Aniston's bitter piece of 'Cake'

An emotionally scarred woman tries to drive everyone else away.
Toward the end of last year, Jennifer Aniston's name began to surface as a possible Oscar nominee for her performance in Cake, the story of an embittered woman whose life is mired in grief and rage. Aniston didn't get the nomination, but the actress best known for rom-coms and her long-running stint in TV's Friends, shows the kind of range Academy voters often appreciate.

In Cake, Aniston plays a woman with a scarred face, an aversion to make-up and a pill-popping addiction to pain killers. Aniston's Claire clearly has suffered both emotional and physical wounds.

Director Daniel Barnz, working from a script by Patrick Tobin, takes his time letting us know precisely what happened to put Claire into such a miserable state.

And miserable it is.

Claire has been so impossible to live with that she's driven off her caring husband(Chris Messina). Only her housekeeper (Adriana Barraza) seems willing to tolerate Claire's abusive ways -- and, at one point, even Barraza's Silvana is pushed to the brink.

Claire is so difficult that she's kicked out of a therapy group, which she disdains anyway. After leaving the group, she's haunted by visions of Nina (Anna Kendrick), a former group member who committed suicide.

Presented in straightforward fashion, these hallucinatory encounters give Kendrick something to do, but don't add much to the proceedings.

Those who remember The Good Girl (2002) already know that Aniston can play against type. In Cake, she pours on cynicism and bile, but the movie loses credibility when Claire establishes a relationship -- albeit a halting one -- with Nina's widowed husband (Sam Worthington), a man who has been left with a child.

If you've seen a few indie movies, you won't have much trouble guessing what has driven Claire to near distraction.

I've not been a fan of Aniston's endless string of rom-coms, but acting in romantic comedies is still acting, and Aniston deserves praise for taking a chance on a small, indie movie in which she's required to keep the audience at a distance.

Let's hope Cake helps push Aniston out of the rom-com ghetto. But taken strictly on its own somewhat attenuated terms, Cake needed to be better, as well as bitter.

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