Slice of Life, by David Bax
Daniel Barnz’s Cake is a movie that deserves to be dinged for a lack of ambition and novelty. That said, its central metaphor rings true and is well-inhabited by Jennifer Aniston in the lead role. But, beyond its existence as a thesis statement, Barnz and screenwriter Patrick Tobin offer little more than shopworn drama tropes.
Aniston plays Claire Bennett, a wealthy lawyer on extended leave from her work and her life in general because a car accident has left her in a state of chronic pain. She abuses her medication, scamming extra refills in a way that comes believable easy to rich, white person. And she attends group therapy, not with an eye on progress but mostly as an outlet for her bitterness. Eventually, we come to find that the accident did not just leave her scarred and hurting; it also took the life of her young son, which subsequently led to the end of her marriage.
This is where the metaphor comes in. Claire’s pain is just the manifestation of her long-term depression. As a portrait of this struggle, Cake gets a lot of things right, such as the unwillingness to expend much energy except when it comes to lashing out as both a reaction to and cause of the world being the way a mind clouded with this disease sees it.
With the same sardonic bite she brought to movies like The Good Girl, Aniston plays these emotions well. In fact, the cast, including Adriana Barraza, Felicity Huffman and many others, are most able to elevate Cake when they’re working at a sort of gallows humor. Ultimately, though, Barnz makes ill use of his tools. Or maybe he’s just as depressed as Claire, looking at what’s laid out in front of him and managing little more than a shrug.