'Cake,' although Oscar snubbed, displays Jennifer Aniston's considerable talent and depicts the horror of chronic pain
PHOTO BY CINELOU FILMS
Where is it playing?: The Palm of San Luis Obispo
What's it rated?: R
What's it worth?: $8.00
What's it worth?: $8.00
Daniel Barnz (Phoebe in Wonderland, Beastly, Won’t Back Down) directs Jennifer Aniston as acerbic chronic pain sufferer Claire Bennett, who becomes obsessed with Nina Collins (Anna Kendrick), a former member of her support group who committed suicide. Soon Claire seeks out Nina’s husband Roy Collins (Sam Worthington), starting a poignant relationship as she struggles to deal with her own personal tragedy. Written by Patrick Tobin, the film also stars Adriana Barraza, Mamie Gummer, Felicity Huffman, William H. Macy, and Chris Messina. (102 min.)
Glen: I was ready to dismiss this movie from the opening scene. Aniston’s Claire Bennett is wholly unlikable—a misanthrope so wrapped up in her own problems she simply can’t see or doesn’t care about how her behavior creates a toxic environment for those unfortunate enough to enter her sphere of influence. The role itself felt like one of those quasi-desperate things aging actresses feel obligated to do to prove they’re serious actors and more than former perky young things, which is of course indicative of the sleazy, youth-focused, male-centric world of Hollywood. Slowly, however, this film started connecting with me, especially thanks to the relationship between Claire and her housekeeper, Silvana (Adriana Barraza, who’s simply amazing in the role). Silvana sees beyond Claire’s unpleasant veneer and knows the memories that torment her. One of the smartest things the film does is reveal Claire’s back story slowly. As we learn more, we learn about her scars, her pain—both physical and emotional—and her self-torment. She seems to want people to loathe her because she loathes herself. The story is basically about forgiveness, and for Claire, the first step is to forgive herself.
Anna: It is easy to dismiss Claire as a bitter, angry bitch who doesn’t have any interest in healing herself. But as her story is revealed and her relationships develop, we see that there is a lot of pain, both physical and emotional, that Claire is working through. One thing I can say for Aniston’s performance is that she definitely portrayed what dealing with chronic pain and the problems that come along with it is like. I heard an interview that she did in which she said that this role made her really appreciate her body, and her performance made me appreciate mine. As the movie navigates through her day-to-day world, we get to see her connections, firstly with Silvana and then with Roy, the widower of Nina. Claire visits Roy after having visions of his dead wife, and shows up at their house under the guise of living there when she was little. She doesn’t fool him, though, and the two bond over grief, loss, and pain. They can’t save each other, but they can help each other hobble along through the mess that both of their lives have become.
Glen: You’ve hit on another reason the film succeeds: It doesn’t offer easy answers or a happy Hollywood ending. Claire’s march toward healing comes in baby steps—learning to appreciate Silvana, helping a runaway, buying a present for Roy’s son. Slowly Claire begins to see past her own myopic view, but first she has to hit rock bottom with her pill-popping, wine-swilling attempts to “medicate” the pain away. I can’t imagine much worse than chronic physical pain, where every simple task is a struggle, where you feel trapped in your own body like it’s a torture-filled prison. It’s no wonder Claire becomes fixated on Nina, whom she begrudgingly admires for having the guts to end her suffering. Claire’s suicidal impulses seem to hang around her like a black cloud, and she reaches out to Roy not so much for his help as for his knowledge of Nina. Did she leave a note? How did Roy feel about it? Claire’s at a crossroads, and she’s either going to kill herself or have to find a way toward recovery. Like I said, there are no easy answers, but there is an emotionally rich film with a brave, vanity-free performance by a former Hollywood starlet known for her perkiness who has just reminded Hollywood that she’s a serious actor. The real tragedy is that Hollywood seems to have few roles and little use for talented aging women.
Anna: I love it when actresses aren’t afraid to take a role that doesn’t portray them with flawless beauty, especially with the pressure in Hollywood to constantly look 25 and perfect, no matter their actual age. Aniston is no exception; she owns the character, scars and all. It really is the small moments in this movie that made me warm, albeit slowly, to Claire. She dips up and down physically and emotionally, wondering if it is worth it to keep living at all. She can’t forgive, can’t forget, can’t move on from a horrible accident that took so much from her. But we watch as she slowly starts to rebuild a life worth living, one that has people in it who genuinely love her. It’s not perfect, and it’s never going to be the same, but it still is a life, and it goes on.
Split Screen is written by Sun contributor and New Times Staff Writer Glen Starkey and his wife, Anna. Comment at email@example.com.