You’ve heard the simplified synopsis of Cake: Jennifer Aniston deglams herself. Yes, that is true, but that’s not giving Aniston enough credit for what she does in the film. She seemed to come out of nowhere to grab Golden Globe and SAG nominations for Best Actress, but after seeing Cake, it’s easy to see why she made the list. Aniston has gone dramatic before, in 2002’s The Good Girl, but she was “the good girl”. She kept her usual charm in darker material. Here, she loses all of it.
Aniston plays Claire Bennett, and we don’t learn much about Claire at the beginning of the film. She’s scarred, she takes tons of drugs to ease chronic pain, and she’s in a support group. Cake starts with the group discussing the suicide of one of its members, Nina (Anna Kendrick). Claire becomes obsessed with Nina’s death, and considers killing herself. There’s so little exposition driving the story that the film really relies on Aniston to make this interesting and she does. Claire is hard-edged and unapologetic. It’s interesting to see a character who isn’t an inspiration on their road to recovery. She’s just miserable.
You can tell Aniston is going “all in” for this character. She’s willing to be unlikable and explore the darkness of her character. You wish the film were as brave. We learn more about Claire as the film goes on. You’ll figure it out what’s happening a lot earlier than the film wants you to. Even when it’s ready for you to know, it spells it out for you so blatantly that the writer must have thought the audience would consist of dimwits.
Aniston never loses her way though. She never goes for the easy answers and keeps challenging the audience to continue with her on her journey. Even when she’s in scenes that just don’t work (her interactions with dead Nina are unnecessary, and the sequence that finally explains the film’s title is just silly), Aniston still shines. Aniston does get some nice support from Oscar nominee Adriana Barraza (Babel) as her faithful housekeeper. Clearly this indie film was a labour of love because the cast of bit parts is filled out by recognizable names including Sam Worthington, Chris Messina, Mamie Gummer, Lucy Punch, and real-life spouses Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy (I feel like that connection had something to do with Macy showing up for 30 seconds in this movie).
There’s often a falseness that comes across when an actress tries to get serious and “deglam” themselves for a role, but not here. Aniston’s transformation is the real deal. It’s the best performance of her career and hopefully she will follow Sandra Bullock‘s path of taking her career in a whole new direction.