At some point or another we probably all think about what might happen if we got seriously hurt, but what doesn’t often cross our minds is what would happen if we were hurt so badly, we spent the rest of our lives in pain. It’s a scary thought and one which isn’t often visited culturally or otherwise. Cake seeks to redress this imbalance with a brutally honest account of living with chronic pain.
From director Daniel Barnz comes the story of Claire Bennet who lives day in, day out with chronic pain, and who becomes fascinated by the suicide of a fellow suffer in her support group, played by Anna Kendrick. After managing her pain in the same way for some time, Nina’s suicide forces Claire to question her own suffering, ultimately asking herself why she hasn’t done the same.
She becomes obsessed with figuring out how Nina made that final decision and ends up stalking her husband, played by Sam Worthington, and child but “not in the traditional sense”. Eventually, her fixation manifests itself in the form of hallucinations and she starts having exchanges with Nina’s ‘ghost’, which are more like internal conversations as she starts to recognise her own damaging behaviour.
Jennifer Aniston may have felt like an odd choice for the role given we’re more use to seeing her in comedies, such as Horrible Bosses and Friends, but the Golden Globe nominee tackles the difficult subject matter with a ferocity which is a credit to her acting ability. Not wearing any make-up throughout the movie (except to create her scars and in one particular scene), Aniston looks, in a word, horrific. Teamed with the superb physicality of someone who’s in constant pain, Aniston creates a believable and enriching character, which is sometimes hard to watch.
Starring alongside Aniston is Mexican-born actress, Adriana Barraza who gives a superb performance as Claire’s long suffering house keeper. With a mixture of fierce protectiveness and abused weariness, she desperately tries to keep her employer afloat despite the way she’s treated. Giving a performance, which speaks to her 22-year career, Barraza is the perfect choice for the emotive subject matter and is an essential part of why Cake works.
Sam Worthington does the part of grieving husband justice in an interesting new role for him; leaving audiences with a promise of things to come as they watch his character connect with Claire through a shared emotional instability. Finally, the remaining supporting cast – Anna Kendrick, Chris Messina and Felicity Huffman – complete a well-rounded and talented troupe, all of which have their own exceptional moments in this film.
Much of Cake isn’t explained. Some characters appear only briefly (William H. Macy only appears for a minute but it’s a good minute) and connections are only hinted at. It’s only after a significant amount of the movie that the audience can piece together what happened to Claire and even then, no specifics. While it might be frustrating to some, the film feels more real for it. Claire doesn’t want to talk about what happen, so the audience doesn’t get to know. It’s an unusual but refreshing style of film-making.
If you’re looking for a feel good movie where the characters ultimate overcome their hardships to realise the beauty in the world, Cake isn’t for you (although it’s not without its funny moments), but don’t let that put you off altogether. During one of her heart-to-hearts with Nina, Claire tells her “That’s fucked up”, to which she replies, “That’s life.” And Cake is definitely a piece of life. Not a particularly nice or even regular part of life for most of us, but an interesting and gripping slice nonetheless.