Cake (2014): Survival Melodrama, Elevated by Jennifer Anniston’s Performance

Cake, the femme-driven melodrama, is poorly directed by Daniel Barnz and unevenly written by Patrick Tobin–sort of a Disease TV Movie of the Week. What elevates this low-budget, rather inert indie above and beyond its various shortcomings, is Jennifer Anniston, an otherwise lightweight if likable actress (still best known for the long-running TV’s comedy series Friends), who renders her most fully realized dramatic performance to date.

Whether or not Anniston will get critical recognition (nominations and awards from reviewers) and/or Academy support–she has never been nominated for an Oscar–remains to be seen.

Fledgling distributor Cinelou Releasing bows their low-budget, narrowly conceived indie in limited release on December 31 to qualify for Oscar considerations, and then plans to expand–with the support of Best Actress nomination–into wider release on January 23.

At its good moments, which are few, Cake is a decent character study of a young, attractive woman, suffering from chronic back pain, which leads to drug addiction, depression, apathy, and self-pity.

Anniston plays Claire Bennett, a Los Angeles lawyer, who’s a victim of car accident, a traumatic event that has left her with scars on her face and a surgically reconstructed body.

We quickly lean that in addition to agony and pain, there is deep grief at the loss of her young son in the car crash.

Initially cynical and self-absorbed to a fault, in the first reel, she comes across as a b—h (sorry for using the word), showing acerbic contempt for the pain of others, and attitude for just about anything else.  She is rude and demanding to all of her helpers and caretakers

Kicked out of a support group, Claire begins a descent into hell, as she is unable to move (just watch how she is carried by car to her doctors and other appointment).

Desperate in her addiction to painkillers, she often goes to extremes (including blackmail) to get them, which puts her loyal and devoted Mexican housekeeper, Silvana (Adriana Barraza), through difficulty and dangers. There is a good scene of the two women crossing the border to Mexico to get the required/desirable meds.

What works less effectively is Claire’s repeated hallucination of a suicide victim (well played Anna Kendrick), which ultimately proves to be her ticket to personal redemption, prompting her to seek the company and forge connection with others.