Privileged Claire Simmons (Aniston) endures a life of excruciating pain, popping pills and dependence on her Mexican helper, Silvana (Barraza). When a member of her support group, Nina (Kendrick), commits suicide, Claire sparks an unlikely relationship with widowed husband Roy (Worthington).
If you know anything about Cake, you’ll know it is the performance that has put Jennifer Aniston at the heart of 2015’s awards conversation (in the end she missed out on Oscar). It is the kind of role that is routinely called “courageous” or a “departure”, but really it’s a gear change for the perennially underrated Aniston.
In owning caustic pill-popper Claire Simmons, Aniston shows slivers of the comedic energy that enlivened Friends so vividly but folds it into a compelling portrait of both physical and emotional anguish.
Aniston has done indie before — The Good Girl, Friends With Money — but never with such intensity. Sporting a wan complexion, light scars and skanky hair that plays like the Rachel hairstyle from hell, she flits between many colours — caustic, whiny, playful, forthright — but never descends into histrionics. She is a joy ripping apart her touchy-feely drug support group or manipulating her way into newly widowed Roy’s (Sam Worthington)life, but also earns warmer moments that belie Claire’s “raving bitch” reputation. It is a masterclass in understatement.
It’s a shame, then, that Anistonis not as well served by the film around her. For all its strong cast (Worthington, Anna Kendrick, William H. Macy, Felicity Huffman), Claire’s ‘journey’ from that of tortured soul to some kind of redemption occasionally drifts closer to sanitised TV movie territory than something heartfelt and real. Kendrick’s appearance as Nina’s ghost feels hoary, and while the source of Claire’s suffering is drip-fed as a puzzle throughout the film, when the revelation finally comes it feels obvious, only Aniston’s skill giving the moment any weight.
Rather than a study of pain, grief and addiction, the film arguably really works best as an odd-couple movie, sketching a warm relationship between Claire and her Mexican help and confidante, Silvana. Babel’s Adriana Barraza is terrific, an empathetic foil to Aniston’s icyness. When the pair are together, Cake fizzes.
Jennifer Aniston lifts an addiction drama with a committed but never showy performance. Its a pity the rest of the film cant cut as deep.