Here’s the annual problem with the mainstream press listing Oscar nomination snubs–who do you leave out, to bolster another, is almost never discussed. This year’s Best Actress nominees are Marion Cotillard, Felicity Jones, Rosamund Pike, Julianne Moore and Reese Witherspoon–all lauded performances. Okay–so who doesn’t belong? I bet we’d all pick someone different. My choice for dismissal would probably be Ms. Pike–but not necessarily because she’s bad in “Gone Girl”. Or maybe Ms. Jones, who’s fine in “The Theory of Everything”, but has been far better elsewhere. See, it’s a losing proposition usually. Any of you, might single out one of the remaining trio. I belabor this point for one reason only. Jennifer Aniston is quite good in “Cake”, and Academy Award recognition would have been perfectly acceptable. Maybe we should simply look to the movie itself for failing her, because the final product is not very strong. Aniston rises above it…along with at least one supporting performance.
Aniston portrays Claire Bennett, an acerbic, divorced, well-to-do woman, suffering from chronic pain. As the plot unravels, we learn that she was severely injured in a car accident, has become addicted to prescription medication, and attends regular support group meetings and physical therapy sessions. Oh, and she’s not so nice. In fact, she alienates a good many people in her life, with her brutal honesty and outright nastiness. This probably also led to the breakup of her marriage, and was certainly not helped by the suicide of Claire’s closest therapy friend, Nina (Anna Kendrick, in a highly unusual role). Over time, we learn why Claire has developed such malice, even as she’s somewhat softened by meeting Nina’s widower husband (Sam Worthington, as a cliché), and the fervent loyalty of her Mexico-born housekeeper, Silvana (Adriana Barraza, quite good, as another cliché). As Claire becomes more and more obsessed with Nina’s suicide, tension continues to mount as we wonder which road the damaged woman will travel.
There’s a fine supporting cast in “Cake”, but it’s really only Aniston and Barraza that stand out. Patrick Tobin’s screenplay fails in fleshing out the other roles, and even Silvana, as written, has had prior variations in other, better, films. And Daniel Barnz is only somewhat successful in the director’s chair, as he tends to hard-sell everything. But Aniston manages to survive the pitfalls of the film proper. Snubbed…I don’t know. Deserving? Sure, why not. Kendrick is a wonderful actress, burdened by a script device that just doesn’t work. Felicity Huffman avoids embarrassment as Annette (the support group leader), but her material is unconvincing and shallow. Chris Messina, as the ex-husband, plays a saint–never good. And William H. Macy has a cameo that is a highly unlikely contrivance. Ultimately what holds “Cake” together is the keen work of Ms. Aniston. You believe her pain, and you believe her. And maybe that’s just reason enough to give this a look. But you shouldn’t consider that a solid recommendation.
next review up: “How to Train Your Dragon 2”