If Steve Carrell’s Oscar nominated performance in “Foxcatcher” has taught us anything this year, it is that highly regarded comedic actors can stray from their niche and succeed in dramatic roles. Although not quite impressive as Carrell’s prosthetic nose for his John DuPont portrayal, the makeup used to transform Jennifer Aniston into the troubled character of Claire Bennett in Cake is also a great achievement. Aniston shines in this role, and truly brings to life her washed up and mysteriously scarred character. Unfortunately, “scarred” could accurately be used to describe the film itself as well.
One of my main problems with this film is that besides Claire, who certainly is not a likeable character, it is difficult to connect with any of the characters. Of course, this is a necessity in any meaningful story. It is especially crucial in one in which tragic events are emphasized. Near the end, it felt as though the film was begging for the audience’s empathy, yet there was nothing previously present in the film that had earned such a reaction. From the very first scene, it is made clear that Jennifer Aniston is meant to portray a hateful woman who does not care about what anyone thinks about her. This attitude is without a doubt adequately acted by Aniston, but again, the character does not maintain enough charm or humor to mask how unlikeable the majority of her actions tend to be.
Between all of this, I found my self constantly checking my watch to see how much more of the film remained, something I usually never do. Simply put, the pacing was painfully slow. Don’t be fooled by the 90-minute runtime; it feels much, much longer. This is primarily thanks to an aimless screenplay that lacks much structure or conflict. Far too many scenes revolve around the strange relationship between Claire and her maid Silvana, who even vocally demonstrates her distaste in Claire several times. It is a film that that is driven by unlikable and underdeveloped characters. Not to mention awkward ghostly appearances from a suicide victim named Nina (played by Anna Kendrick), characters who supposedly had a significant role in Claire’s life are never fully explained or utilized in the story. One of these characters is played by William H. Macy, who I noticed on the poster when I walked by it in the theater. The only unusual part about this is that he only appeared in the film for thirty seconds at most. Honestly, my favorite “character” was a heart-warming picture of Claire’s deceased son that hangs on her wall. He had less than a minute of screen time as well…
From the little that there is to take away from this film, it does include a Golden Globe nominated performance from Jennifer Aniston which is well deserved. Everything else is no more than average. Well executed cinematography stood out here and there, but it wasn’t enough to carry the underwhelming story. Make no mistake, this is not a terrible film. It is, however, a forgettable one and I would be hesitant to recommend it to anyone besides devoted Jennifer Aniston fans.
The title Cake makes this film seem as though it is going to be a sweet, savory experience. This is simply not the case. It is a burnt cake that required much more care from all cooks involved.
Review by Harrison Jeffs