Aniston gives raw, honest performance in “Cake”

by Chris Sanchez

sanchezch@mnstate.edu

These days, it’s easy for Hollywood to pigeonhole actresses who are constantly in the spotlight. A-list actresses like Julia Roberts, Reese Witherspoon and others who are known for being America’s sweethearts and box office moguls want to be taken seriously, but don’t necessarily get the roles they deserve to show their worth. However, when one of those actresses does get the opportunity to strut their stuff and completely surprise audiences, it’s a refreshing reminder that they can’t always jump the gun and write off these stars.

That’s the case with Jennifer Aniston, who’s often seen as a bubbly and charming girl next door, but  hasn’t really found a worthy dramatic role until now.

In “Cake” she plays Claire, a woman suffering from chronic depression. It’s taken a toll on her life, as she struggles daily just to get out of bed. She has a nurse (Adrianna Barraza, the wonderful, Oscar-nominated actress from “Babel”) who takes care of her despite being underpaid and treated poorly.

In the film’s opening scene, Claire is attending a support group after one of their members committed suicide by jumping off a downtown L.A. overpass. While the other members are grieving and sharing their feelings, Claire recounts the gruesome description of how the person was found.

She becomes infatuated with the death, so much so that she starts seeing the ghost of the woman, Nina (Anna Kendrick). Her hallucinations don’t stop her from blatantly becoming obsessed with Nina’s personal life, including attempting to connect with Nina’s widower (Sam Worthington) and trying to figure out the mystery behind her death.

The task seems like the only thing going on for Claire, who spends her daily life alone in agonizing pain. She walks as though she’d been run over by a semi and sees no payoff for the therapy she’s put herself through. For some, this woman may be unbearable, but it’s a testament to Aniston to be able to play the deglamorized role of a woman who wears no make-up, is covered in scars, has unwashed hair and is stripped of her usual allure.

The role doesn’t reek of vanity, as Aniston gives an honest portrayal of a woman trying to cope with tragedy and pursue happiness. It’s a career-best performance that should give the actress more leeway for increasingly interesting and challenging roles to come.

If only the film itself were as strong as its star.

For all its angst and bleakness, “Cake” lacks  subtlety and warmth, despite some moments of levity. There are many questions that are left unanswered. The film would have benefited from knowing Claire’s past, but, unfortunately it’s never disclosed.

Nevertheless, the chief reason for seeing “Cake” is Aniston’s performance. It’s a showcase that proves to critics she is ready to be seen in a new light.“Gal pal Rachel Green” is no longer with us.

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