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"CAKE"
(2014) (Jennifer Aniston, Adriana Barraza) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A former lawyer tries to cope with the recent suicide of her friend and fellow chronic pain sufferer.
PLOT:
Claire Bennett (JENNIFER ANISTON) was once a lawyer for the ACLU, but following an accident that emotionally and physically scarred her and ultimately destroyed her marriage to fellow lawyer Jason (CHRIS MESSINA), she now spends her days dealing with chronic pain that's left her unable to work. With the help of her caretaker, Silvana (ADRIANA BARRAZA), she goes from her doctor to physical therapy to a support group for those also suffering from chronic pain, but she isn't getting any better.

To make matters worse, a fellow support group member, Nina Collins (ANNA KENDRICK), has recently committed suicide, thus leaving her husband, Roy (SAM WORTHINGTON), alone to care for their young son, Casey (EVAN O'TOOLE). Claire has nightmares and hallucinations about interacting with Nina who seems to encourage her to follow in her footsteps of stopping her pain forever, which eventually causes Claire to come to know Roy and realize he's suffering through emotional pain just like her. As they try to deal with that, Claire must decide if her life is worth living.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
I've always been an "I'll take pain any day over nausea" kind of guy. And that's because while I can isolate pain and deal with it in a variety of ways, rarely does anything -- beyond time -- work for me in alleviating that overall lousy feeling related to being nauseous. Granted, I've never probably experienced truly excruciating pain, although a bruised rib back in my football days made every single breath hurt, while a bout of sciatica in my later years felt like someone sawing straight down my femur for months. Thankfully, both subsided.

But I'm aware of people who suffer from chronic pain, be that migraines, arthritis or what have you and I truly feel sorry for them. A fictional account of one such sufferer occurs in the movie "Cake." In it, Jennifer Aniston plays a former lawyer who pops painkillers like candy in hopes of alleviating her constant suffering. Usually dressed in a robe, sweat pants and anything else deemed comfortable, she spends her days in bed when not riding completely prone in the passenger seat of her driven by her caretaker (a good Adriana Barraza) to see her doctor, therapist or chronic pain sufferers support group.

Unfortunately for her, her perturbed when not angry demeanor has gotten her kicked out the latter, and it's obvious by some fairly significant facial scars that something bad happened in the past that's left her in her current physical and emotional state. Director Daniel Barnz -- working from a screenplay by Patrick Tobin -- is in no hurry to reveal what that catalyst was, although it's fairly certain it will come up at some point during the film's 100-some minute run-time.

Until then, we watch as Aniston's character metaphorically limps through life, all while dealing with nightmares and visions of her former friend and fellow chronic pain sufferer (Anna Kendrick) tormenting and egging her on to follow in her footsteps of alleviating said pain. That character's suicide occurs before the film begins, but it's what drives Claire to come to grips with her condition and the events that got her where she is today and essentially ruined her marriage to her fellow lawyer husband (Chris Messina) who's since moved out.

The protagonist's quest to learn every detail she can about Nina's suicidal plunge (including visiting the L.A. freeway bridge from which she leapt) eventually leads her to that woman's widowed husband (Sam Worthington, so much better in these smaller roles than all of those big budget blockbusters in which he's appeared). He's suffering from his own sort of pain, and the two end up as kindred spirits of sorts, although the film thankfully doesn't take them down the path many will likely expect.

Much has been made of Aniston playing the role sans her usual make-up and hair styling, as if that's some great sacrifice and hardship she had to endure. Perhaps it is for her stalkers who like her always dolled up. Whatever the case, Aniston fully fills out the role in truly believable and credible ways, delivering what's easily her best dramatic performance to date. It is too bad that she was passed by for a Best Actress Oscar nomination (after being nominated in that category for the SAG, Golden Globe and Critics Choice Movie awards), but her work here promises we could likely see more stellar roles from her in the future.

As far as the film is concerned, it's good but not great. Little bits of dry humor help offset some of the more dire material, and some decent emotional moments are hit without feeling too manipulative or over-sentimental. I also liked the occasional interludes with Kendrick's character, as well as the tortured soul interactions between Aniston and Worthington's, along with the patient and caretaker ones featuring Aniston and Barraza.

In all of that, the filmmakers obviously aren't going for anything grand and thankfully don't troll much in Oscar bait waters. But perhaps in keeping the story fairly straightforward and simple (it isn't too difficult to predict the past event that's caused all of this) that has prevented it from reaching greatness. Again, it's solidly done from start to finish, but Aniston's performance is the only truly award worthy element of the film. Thankfully, this look at those suffering from physical and emotional pain isn't anywhere near painful to watch, and thus "Cake" rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed January 22, 2015 / Posted January 23, 2015


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