Review: Cake – Jennifer Aniston is multi-layered but the plot is half-baked

Mark Reynolds 

Since The Good Girl (2002) and Friends With Money (2006), we’ve known Jennifer Aniston has a well-honed instinct for indie drama as well as the perky comedy that made her famous. Here she goes deeper than ever before, in a strikingly dressed-down role as physically and mentally scarred L.A. divorcee Claire Simmons.

Claire’s reluctance to get well is rooted in an accident she only survived after massive reconstructive surgery, and her mood veers from spiteful to suicidal as she undertakes her everyday chores and exercises. Even her chronic pain support group kicks her out, after she shares her bitter admiration for former member Nina (Anna Kendrick), who committed suicide by leaping from a freeway overpass.

Claire is unlikeable, acerbic, highly strung, selfish and triply loaded – via her divorce settlement and a gargantuan daily intake of painkillers and booze. Amazingly, such is Aniston’s heartfelt and agonised performance, we root for her at almost every step. Adriana Barraza also shines as Claire’s housekeeper, carer and only friend Silvana, and the dynamic of the privileged, mean-spirited employer and the exploited but tolerant worker sets up some provocative banter about the lives of others.

In a thickly laid central metaphor, Claire, in her agony, lies flat on a fully reclined car seat whenever she’s on a drive, so she literally can’t see where she’s going (though she’s not shy about giving directions to whoever’s behind the wheel). As we await the moment she’ll sit up and take a clearsighted look around her, the story meanders from the surreal to the frankly silly.

A trip over the border to Silvana’s native Tijuana to pick up a stash of illegal pills is nicely played, and an encounter with some of Silvana’s snooty ex-friends gives Claire a rare opportunity to show support and empathy. But the rest of Claire’s journey is a muddle of spooky encounters with a sneery Nina, and a creepy flirtation with Roy (Sam Worthington), the husband Nina left behind. Roy and Nina’s demanding young son Casey (Evan O’Toole) wants a cake for his birthday, but the mechanism for delivering one (and with it the film’s title) via a thieving runaway hitchhiker with a gift for frosting is beyond description.

Watch Cake for Aniston’s remarkable transformation, although the film around her is in desperate need of a raising agent.

Cake opens in cinemas across the UK on Friday 20th February. 

Jennifer Aniston shot to stardom playing Rachel in the much-loved sitcom Friends. Her film career spans comedy and drama. See what she’s starred in, here.