‘Cake’ baked with fake sugar


Courtesy IMDb


By Max Ginkel

When Claire Bennett, played by Jennifer Aniston, says “I don’t believe in ghosts,” it is clear she is talking about the own ghosts of her past. Though Bennett knows her ghosts are real— her own scars prove as much— it is her coming to terms with their existence that is the central topic of Cake”, Aniston’s latest project.

The film follows Bennett, a suburban woman who has suffered an accident and the loss of someone close. Additionally, she becomes addicted to her prescription medication and falls into a post-traumatic state. Her problems and recovery begin to come to light after the suicide of Nina (Anna Kendrick) a woman in her support group, whose death Bennett becomes obsessed with.

Cake is the ideal project for Aniston. The film is a character-driven dramatic indie with a role perfectly proving her acting abilities, and that she’s still got it at this point in her career. It is no surprise then that Aniston is the executive producer of the picture.

Certainly Aniston passes her own test. Her performance is a grand step up for the actress. She completely drives the film forward as a woman clearly in pain, both physically and emotionally. Yet she deals with that pain as so many do—simultaneously denying its existence while hiding behind it. She is bitter and cynical in light of all the trauma she has suffered, and it feels real. She then deals with suicide as so many have learned to: with distance and forced indifference.

However, that does not mean viewers have not seen this before in other films. Claire Bennett is a well-worn character. The bitter, lonely suburbanite with a dark past has been used before. Bennett’s long path to redemption is also nothing new. Cake does nothing to tremendously change that cliche narrative.

The film treats depression and mental illness with respect and candor, which is extremely appreciated in today’s culture. Bennett’s suicidal tendencies are portrayed openly and there is no beating around the bush—as there shouldn’t be. If a film is to discuss the topic of suicide—something that touches many people today—it should do so with honesty. Too many films just use it as a ploy or plot device. When the characters talk about suicide, although they may be a little overdramatic, they talk of their frustration more than their sorrow. As much as they mourn, they cannot help but feel spite for what they see as a selfish action. Although this line of thought is ultimately flawed, it is not uncommon or illogical.

The film also explores the systems set in place to heal Bennett, which include her support group, physical therapist, psychiatrist and even the Mexican pharmacist who sells her illegal drugs. As the viewer watches Bennett interact with each one, they see how each fails her and how she manipulates and abuses the very things trying to save her. Most of her doctors and therapists are incapable of helping her, which adds to the frustration of Bennett’s situation.

A key character is Bennett’s Mexican housekeeper, Silvania. This is another recycled archetype—the humble Latina maid serving the privileged white woman— but the film gives her more depth than usually seen. Initially her championship is a service Bennett can pay for, but their relationship grows in dynamic ways, including a great scene where the audience is brought into Silvania’s home.

The film follows Bennett as she begins to see Nina in her day-to-day life, tormenting her by trying to convince her to take her own life. These hallucinations, although offering the most potential, fall the flattest. It is a combination of bad writing, a poor performance by Kendrick, and unmotivated cinematography.

In the end, the film delivers a series of cliche victories to invoke the classic redemption moment, but the last one is simple and ends the film on a very strong note, letting the viewer forgive the others.

Cake is steeped in realism, but it is the faux realism usually reserved for Lifetime movies and Budweiser commercials featuring puppies. For all the aspects of the film mentioned above, the performances and writing include some very unrealistic moments that feel forced. Even worse than the faux realism are the parts of the film that are downright boring. The film’s pace is very slow, but that does not mean it will not appeal to all viewers; what this reviewer may gauge as too slow might be the perfect tone for others.