For a while it looked like Jennifer Aniston was stuck in the same rut. Forgettable movies like “Love Happens” and “The Bounty Hunter” seemed to pigeonhole her as an American Sweetheart type in a movie market filled to bursting with dramatic darlings.
Lately though she’s been doing some career busting, appearing in raunchy comedies like “Horrible Bosses” and “We Are the Millers” and now “Cake,” a low budget drama about putting the broken pieces of a shattered life back together that should put Rachel on the shelf forever in favor of the more daring work she used to do in movies like “The Good Girl” and “Friends with Money.”
She plays Claire, a churlish woman suffering with chronic pain brought on by a car accident that crushed her leg and took the life of her son. The near death experience blew apart her marriage to Jason (Chris Messina), leaving her alone with her tough-but-tender housekeeper Silvana (Adriana Barazza) and the members of her support group. When Nina (Anna Kendrick), a member of the group, commits suicide Claire becomes obsessed with Nina’s life and death. Her search for answers leads her to Nina’s husband’s (Sam Worthington) door and to a new way at looking at life.
“Cake” has many nicely played dramatic scenes. Putting Aniston’s crusty Claire next to Barazza’s warmhearted Silvana is inspired. Their scenes are by far and away the best things in the movie. When they aren’t sparking off one another the movie loses much of its sizzle.
Not that Worthington fails, he doesn’t, but as part of the Nina/Claire-redemption story arc he’s the engine that drives the most predictable and least interesting part of the story.
Aniston, however, is terrific. The pain that wracks her body and tortures her psyche is evident in every movement, in every word that tumbles from her lips. That doesn’t mean she can’t still deliver a funny line. Ten seasons of sit com work honed that skill to a fine edge so when she asks if Nina’s husband where he got the granite for her gravestone because, “I’m thinking of putting a kitchen rail in my backyard,” it’s prickly but hilarious.
“Cake” is a great showcase for the new, dramatic Aniston but it isn’t a great film. In it’s final moments the movie grasps for a feel good ending which is just slightly out of reach.