People talk about Oscar snubs like it’s some sort of huge deal; like an injustice has been carried out. In the case of Jennifer Aniston not getting nominated for her turn as a slovenly jerk of a human being in Daniel Barnz’s Cake, I could have seen it coming back during TIFF. All the good will and marketing budgets in the world couldn’t make Cake a good movie. In fact, it’s a dreadful, nearly unwatchable, mean spirited, and thoroughly miserable experience that has a great, but not exactly against type turn from Aniston at its centre. Trying to get her a nomination for this film would have been the ultimate in polishing a turd.
Claire (Aniston) – an angrily depressed, pill popping woman of privilege and repressed feelings – has separated from her husband and lost her child following a tragic accident. She goes through her days in a pissed off, sarcastic haze, plagued by the memory of a fellow support group member (Anna Kendrick) who killed herself. Somewhat suicidal herself, the only things that keep her going are pills, booze, sex, a friendly Latino housekeeper and driver, and hooking up with the husband (Sam Worthington, in his best performance despite having nothing to do) of the deceased woman.
Aniston certainly commits herself to the role, looking scarred up, generally pained, and never going for audience sympathy regardless of what the script asks of her. Unfortunately, Barnz (Beastly, Won’t Back Down) has absolutely no clue what film he wants to make.
The main failure of this film amounts to the cinematic equivalent of “vague-booking.” Nothing gets explained and the film thinks it’s so artful and intellectually thoughtful that the audience won’t give a shit that things are convenient or that they never add up or make sense.
Nothing gets developed here beyond a surface level before getting dropped. I would call it episodic, but that’s almost an insult to other films that I’ve taken to task for feeling like a bunch of scenes that have just been strung together. It’s also so hopelessly predictable and frightfully arbitrary every step of the way that you can guess the final shot of the movie about five minutes into the film, which means the dull, plodding nature of the rest of the film makes it positively excruciating. Watching a talented cast (especially Kendrick the Friendly Ghost and the absolute worst waste of William H. Macy I have ever seen in his career) flounder with useless roles should be a crime.
But worst of all, it’s an unrelentingly mean movie with a sad sack attitude. It asks the audience to like and sympathize with someone who is patently irredeemable and who isn’t looking very hard for redemption. It’s like if Bad Santa changed gears after twenty minutes and trying to get serious because all of a sudden it’s made known the main character has terminal cancer and we watch him strolling through the hospital mocking everyone.
That meanness is why I can’t commend Aniston’s performance more that saying she seems physically committed to the role. Mentally this is the same character she played in the Horrible Bosses films, but with a straight face and a side of latent self-loathing bile. She’s a fine actress. She can’t salvage any of this.
It’s frustrating how little the film actually gives a shit about anything, especially since Aniston and Worthington are actually giving an effort. Also, the title is so dreadfully stupid that it could have been named after literally anything that was sitting around the room at the time the film was conceived. It’s a stupid title named after a lousy plot point in a lousy film.