JEANNE' REVIEW

 

I never doubted for an instant that Jennifer Aniston could pull off a serious role. She had done it before, beautifully, in "The Good Girl" (2002). And though playing Claire Simmons in "Cake" is deadly serious, Aniston's comedic timing shines through when the excellent script by Patrick Tobin calls for a humorous moment.

 

Claire suffers greatly from chronic pain due to an accident that we never witness. She's also dealing with a great deal of emotional pain, another result of the accident. She pops narcotics like candy and drinks a fair amount every day just to cope with her life-altering pain.

 

She's blunt and obnoxious --- so much so that her chronic-pain support group asks that she not return. Her husband, Jason Bennett (Chris Messina), has moved out, She has no friends, only her incredibly loyal housekeeper, Silvana (Adriana Barraza), who refuses to leave her employment.

 

Early on in the film, while at her last chronic-pain group meeting, it is learned that another member of Annette's (Felicity Huffman) gathering, Nina (Anna Kendrick), has committed suicide. Claire can't seem to wrap her head around this event, and becomes fixated on Nina's surviving husband, Roy (Sam Worthington), and their son.

 

"Cake" is not a pretty film. Aniston looks nothing like herself in photos or other films. It's not easy, or particularly attractive, to appear on screen with little or no make-up. Just ask Charlize Theron. But Aniston does a remarkable job showcasing her acting chops.

 

Even though we aren't experiencing her pain physically, we do suffer with her. She is extraordinary at conveying the constant, irrefutable discomfort and searing pain that she endures every minute of every day. Her stiffness of movement never falters, and her face reads like a road map of torturous torment.

 

But Aniston's performance is not the only one which should have garnered an Oscar nomination --- a major screw-up somewhere. Barraza is quietly astounding as the put-upon, underappreciated, underpaid servant. Silvana's devotion to Claire is palpable, and so moving. She cares for Claire, protects her and ultimately saves her from herself. It's a ravishing portrayal.

 

I could have lived without Kendrick and Worthington. They're both horribly miscast. Though I enjoyed Kendrick in "Into The Woods", she's not at all suitable for this role. She's too girlish and perky for such a serious part. And don't even get me started on Worthington. I don't care what David writes, this guy simply cannot act. His Roy is annoying and lifeless --- never once did I believe he was distraught or angry --- his words --- about Nina's suicide. It's a pathetic performance. Good Lord, I wish people would stop casting him!

 

Whether you're an Aniston fan --- or not --- "Cake" is a worthy film. She deserves all of the kudos she receives, and more. Her portrayal of Claire is as good as Julianne Moore's in "Still Alice", and better than Marion Cotillard's in "Two Days, One Night". It's simply a shame that she wasn't nominated.

 

Opinion: See It Now!

 

 

DAVID'S REVIEW

 

Such an injustice. Jennifer Aniston has given the second-best female performance of the year, and misses a chance for an Oscar because someone messed up --- royally.

 

I never thought I would be so angry about a Jennifer Aniston movie, but this is worse than your ordinary snub. Yes, like many others, I am not happy that David Oyelowo is not nominated for Best Actor. But Academy Award snubs are part of the awards season fabric.

 

In Aniston's case, it is either a major marketing mishap, or a total studio flub that "Cake" was released so late and so sparingly in 2014. The guess is that few of the 6000 Academy voters actually saw the movie in time to cast their ballots. Chicago is not exactly a small market, yet the release of "Cake" in this town is not set until January 23rd --- far too late for the Oscar nominees of 2014, and not eligible for the 2015 nominations.

 

This is a travesty because her turn in "Cake", as a woman dealing with deep personal loss amidst unbearable physical suffering, is alternately pathetic, sympathetic, heartwarming and quite funny. Only Julianne Moore's Oscar-nominated performance in "Still Alice" --- for which she is a lock to win --- eclipses Aniston's, but just barely.

 

As the film opens, Claire Simmons (Aniston) is part of a chronic-pain support group led by a woman named Annette (Felicity Huffman). Several of the ladies in the circle are asked to express their feelings about another support group member, Nina Collins (Anna Kendrick), who has just committed suicide. The common sentiment among the women is why didn't Nina seek help? But when Claire speaks, she is merely pragmatic about why it took so long to recover the body, and it's clear that her cynicism alienates the others.

 

Claire returns home, and her extreme pain is exacerbated by the visible scars on her face and body. She lives alone, and while we don't yet know her story, it's obvious she was in some type of serious accident. She does have a middle-aged Latino housekeeper, Silvana (the terrific Adriana Barraza). Based on her comfortable home, including an outdoor swimming pool, Claire is not hurting for money. She constantly pops pain pills, and the only relief from her back pain is to lie prone, including when she's a passenger in a car.

 

Claire is drawn to the home of Nina where she meets the surviving husband, Roy (Sam Worthington) and his young son, Casey (Evan O'Toole), who upon meeting Claire, innocently asks "what happened to your face?". His comment is typical of the humor in Patrick Tobin's screenplay, which is critical in maintaining a lighter tone amidst the dire  circumstances.

 

The relationship between Claire and Silvana is one of friendship more than employer/employee, and the two actresses are special together in every scene in which they interact. Worthington is certainly adequate --- despite Jeanne's assessment --- in his role as the widower, and Roy and Claire share a special bond that builds slowly through the film.

 

"Cake" is one of those small stories to which anyone can relate. Aniston hits all the right notes, but its her deadpan humor that's as essential to the script as anything else. When she and Roy sit down to a home-cooked meal, Silvana announces a male visitor, and without skipping a beat, Claire says it "must be a Jehovah's Witness". When she and Silvana motor to Tiajuana to buy pills on the cheap, Aniston is a howl when the Mexican pharmacist asks for the prescription she doesn't have.

 

Chris Messina has a small role, and William H. Macy is seen in a cameo. Kendrick's character is seen only by Claire as a ghost, a storytelling device I'm not that fond of, but it serves the purpose here. "Cake" is sentimental without being maudlin, and much like her performance in "The Good Girl" (2002), Jennifer Aniston proves she is much more than Rachel from "Friends".

 

Opinion: See It Now!