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Directed by Daniel Barnz
Running time 102 minutes
You’ve got to hand it to Jennifer Aniston. After cheque-booking her way though a seemingly-interminable series of forgettable post-Friends comedies the now middle-aged actress has been exploring more adventurous roles in films such as Life Of Crime, the soon-to-be-released She’s Funny That Way and this film, on which she was executive producer. Cake is not a great film but Aniston’s performance in it is strikingly impressive.
Claire Bennett (Aniston) is a sharp-tongued woman who suffers from chronic pain as the result of a serious car accident. She’s addicted to pain-killers and is intolerant of any source of aggravation, including as we see in the opening scene, the touchy-feely sentiments of the members of the politically-correct support group she attends, at least briefly, as after a characteristic outburst of spleen she is asked to leave by its convenor (Felicity Huffman).
Devoid of make-up, with lank hair and visible scars on her face and neck, Aniston is light-years away from her cover-girl image but it is not just that self-abnegation that impresses so much as the actress’s entirely convincing portrayal of a chronic pain suffer for whom every move is an ordeal. Unable to do anything but manage the pain as best as possible (which means a steady and excessive intake of prescription drugs) Claire is peremptory at best and often simply bitterly cutting to anyone who tries to help her including her Mexican maid, Silvana (Adriana Barraza), her former husband (Chris Messina) and her physiotherapist (Mamie Gummer). She also seeks respite for her pain in pathetically brief sexual encounters with her pool-man. She is, to put it bluntly, an irascibly offensive character and the film’s journey is a kind of twinned rapprochement between Claire and life on the one hand and Claire and us the audience on the other as she gradually makes some attempts to reconnect with the people in her life and we learn the story of her accident.
This is where the film gets a little questionable in scripting and execution in the form of the rather awkward device of Claire’s hallucinatory conversations with Nina (Anna Kendrick), a former support group member who has committed suicide, and her real relationship with Nina’s husband (Sam Worthington) and cute child.
Whilst whether or not we really needed a talking ghost for Claire to work through the temptation of suicide is debatable, Nina's colloquies with Claire simply do not sit well in the film and the very distinctive-looking Ms. Kendrick is mis-cast in the role (one can't help, given her career to date but expect her to break into song). Whilst a briefly-seen William H. Macy looks like he has walked into the wrong film only to be beaten up for his mistake, Sam Worthington on the other hand makes for a sympathetic presence (and some fun is had with his Australian accent) but his relationship with Claire feels like a rather contrived feel-good narrative device rather than any kind of credible development. In this respect it is Claire’s relationship with Silvana which is the most dramatically convincing aspect of the film.
The film has been criticised as a representation of the experience of chronic pain for making Claire a well-to-do white middle class woman able to afford a panoply of support. But who says such people cannot be so afflicted? Ms. Aniston certainly makes it seem so.