Scarred Aniston shines in chronic pain story 'Cake'

Tom Long
The Detroit News

'Cake' is delicious stuff — low key but affecting, funny while tragic, quirky but never so bizarre it loses you.

In fact, this is the kind of movie that captures a viewer and holds them while slowly unveiling its story. You're most of the way through the film before you get a glimpse at its backstory.

And by then, you're swept up in the aching glory of Claire (Jennifer Aniston), an acerbic woman covered in scars that reflect her state of constant physical and psychic pain. We meet Claire at a support group for chronic pain sufferers, where the topic of conversation is Nina (Anna Kendrick), a group member who has recently committed suicide by jumping off a freeway overpass.

It soon becomes clear that Claire is addicted to the many painkillers she pops with a glass of wine in hand. Enabled by her faithful-if-chastising housekeeper Silvana (a wonderful Adriana Barraza), Claire spends her days mostly alone and drugged in her LA home.

But then she becomes somewhat obsessed with the departed Nina. She meets the husband (Sam Worthington) Nina left behind, Roy, a fellow damaged creature, and they become friends. She starts hallucinating Nina back to life, obviously working through her own suicidal impulses. Meanwhile, she keeps taking drugs, drugs, drugs.

Director Daniel Barnz and screenwriter Patrick Tobin dish out scant details of Claire's current condition, letting her mystery build even as her condition deteriorates. They obviously had no trouble recruiting a cast for this film. Chris Messina, William H. Macy, Felicity Huffman, Mamie Gummer — they all have nicely carved, drop-in roles along the way.

But the film revolves around Aniston, and she's never been better. So much has been made of the scars and her lack of makeup that you fear Heavy Drama is all that will be served up. But Aniston's flippant humor is put to good use here as well, and while she does bring the big moments, she more embodies the weariness of prolonged pain of the flesh and soul.

If it's not necessarily a tremendous role — this is a small, thoughtful, contained film — it certainly feels like a true one, and it clearly shows Aniston's potential. Do it again, Jen. Do it again.



Rated R for language, substance abuse and brief sexuality

Running time: 102 minutes

"Cake" (R ) Jennifer Aniston is both low key and superb as a scarred woman suffering from chronic pain who becomes obsessed with another woman's suicide. At moments funny and raw. (102 minutes) GRADE: B+