With Jennifer Aniston, Adriana Barraza, William H. Macy, Anna Kendrick and Sam Worthington
Director: Daniel Barnz
Reviewed by Ann Deering
The opening shot in the film Cake (2014) shows a chronic pain management support group trying to come to terms with the suicide of a member. The group reaction of uneasiness, confusion and sadness is shattered by Claire (played by Jennifer Aniston) who is neither easy nor compassionate. She makes light of the tragedy focusing on the length of time it took to release the body. The group are astonished and the group psychotherapist requests her resignation.Claire’s life starts to reveal her great physical pain that she experiences most of the time and the energy and effort it takes to do the even the simple tasks. This is mysterious as we do not know until much later in the film how this occurred. The slow unfolding of the story is gripping, as is the relationship which has developed with her housekeeper Silvana (played by Adriana Barraza) who is Mexican with little English. This is the only relationship Claire maintains. There was some effort in concentration required of the audience to stay focused on the story such was the intensity portrayed by Aniston. Many were in tears.
This is a film that places a huge responsibility on the main character: the difficulties in managing pain, the addiction to painkillers, the feeling of sadness knowing that it may never get better and the slow realisation that the suicide of Nina has released Claire from her absorption with her own life. Silvana plays her part with condensed intensity, quietly supporting a fragile Claire. The overwhelming emotions are rolled together and concentrated, evoking a performance from both which excels. We accompany Claire as she tries to make sense of this act by going to Nina’s house and getting to know her husband and child. This is the only part that feels contrived, almost as if we need to soften what is essentially a harsh reality – the aftermath of suicide is often more tragic than the act itself. An example is the husband’s anger at his wife’s death: “I hope she’s in hell ‘cause that’s where she left me”.
Nina, acting as the inner voice, appears in disturbing dreams and nightmares, becoming real to Claire only in death. We hear Claire’s own story towards the middle of the film; her terrible accident, and the break-up of her marriage.
I felt the film was a little over-long and the last few scenes, especially Claire’s own suicide attempt, felt rushed and underdeveloped. The effect of chronic pain in driving out all awareness except one’s own suffering was beautifully explored. In one or two encounters we saw how the chronic pain management support group did not work for her, emphasising that professionalism was the last thing she needed. The parallel of psychic and physical pain reaching a climax in a suicide attempt was masterful. The power of this film is in its apparent simplicity, which then unfolds into complexity, addiction and desperation, presented in a story about a girl and her housekeeper.