In Daniel Barnz’s Cake, Jennifer Aniston plays Claire Bennett, a middle-aged woman suffering from trauma trying to cope with the suicide of a member in her crisis group. Anna Kendrick plays the ghost of Nina, the woman who committed suicide. Aniston does well in sufficiently portraying a broken woman using satire as a front to cope with deep pain.
Although Aniston takes a great leap from her traditional rom-com roles, the movie is lacking in substance and plot. Nothing really happens in the film besides Claire’s everyday struggles. But the themes were dense and difficult to watch, bringing out the waterworks throughout the film. In fact, I started to wonder if it was just the troubling subject matter that made me feel something instead of the acting or writing. I kept waiting for more to be revealed, for the backstory of Claire’s demons to be disclosed or the reasons for Nina’s suicide. This never happened. Instead, the story unravelled around events that were only hinted at.
At times, the movie also became cliché; the heartwarming relationship between the Latino housekeeper and Claire, the convenient friendship formed between Claire and Nina’s widowed husband, and Claire having to travel to Mexico to get more painkillers—these subplots are all unoriginal tropes.
One thing that didn’t quite fit was the title itself: Cake. It almost felt as if a cake had been put in the movie simply so the title had some relevance. If the title was going to be based on objects that reoccur most throughout the film, it should have been titled Painkillers.
Movies don’t have to be uplifting or happy to be great. They can deal with heartbreaking topics and still leave viewers satisfied, feeling like they’ve gained something from the experience. Cake didn’t do this; it left me feeling empty and disappointed. I spent my afternoon watching a woman go through agony for $13 and left the theatre having eaten a crumb when I was hungry for a much bigger slice.