Last night I went to review Cake. Not the sweet, spongey variety with cherries on top, but the rather depressing movie of the same name that's recently earned Jennifer Aniston her now infamous Oscar snub. If her turn here as the antiheroine Claire - an irate, miserable, chronic pain sufferer - isn't Oscar worthy, we don't know what is.
Following the death of a young woman (the ghost of whom is played by our favourite, Anna Kendrick) in her support group, Claire becomes fascinated with the life she chose to leave behind, so much so, she begins to experience visions in which Kendrick's character is encouraging her too to call it quits (as well as antagonising her over why she's such a 'see you next Tuesday', among other things).
After a considerable amount of time spent in a permanent state of pain, barely getting by on a cocktail of hardcore sedatives, grappling with the loss of her child and the subsequent breakdown of her marriage (none of which are ever explored in any great depth), Claire spends most of her time tragically toying with the idea of opting out. The rest of her time is spent with a bottle of wine, sleeping with the man who tends to her garden (the one outside her house, we mean) and, to the disappointment of those who've tried to help her, not making any measurable progress in terms of her recovery. In a nutshell, this is pretty bleak stuff.
What you don't expect with the aforementioned subject matter, though, is a delicate balance between the tragedy of Claire's story and the humour with which this movie is punctuated. It's got that whole dark-comedy thing going on and for those who find humour in the darkest of days, it works. Testament to Aniston's own comedic streak, Claire's sarcastic, jokey nature comes as a welcome respite from an otherwise depressing plot (even if we feel somewhat uncomfortable as we laugh).
Aniston deserves kudos for her most unglamorous role yet; on a physical level you can virtually feel her pain as she contorts in and out of the car. There is no maneuver that doesn't cause her some distress and Aniston never lets this slip. On an emotional level, it's easy to see why Claire's so damn hard to be around. Can you imagine being in pain 24/7? (Take your man friend to see this movie and give a whole new meaning to the notion of 'man flu'; he'll never moan again.) With support from Chris Messina, Sam Worthington (both of whom we'd like to have seen more of) and a wonderful Adriana Barraza - Claire's Mexican housekeeper - Aniston is in good company here.
Unfortunately though, as has become the trend with many self-aware movies these days, we get no sense of a beginning, middle or end with Cake, but more so a linear collection of slow moving scenes. While this style of filmmaking certainly inspires post-movie conversation, ultimately you're left feeling somewhat dissatisfied. Far too much is left to our own interpretation as the circumstances which brought Claire to this point are merely hinted at. With no real sense of what the future holds for our unlikely heroine, or indeed what the past might have looked like, we leave craving a fuller picture.
At times amusing, at other times deeply emotive, Cake is worthy of your time. Maybe, though, just don't go see it if you're currently in the throes of a menstrual cycle. It's far from uplifting.