Jennifer Aniston stars as Claire, a woman who’s lived through just such a trauma and who, as a result, has chosen “alcohol and opiods” as her coping mechanism of choice. Angry, sad, depressed, resentful, hurt… Claire’s not really a pleasure to be around, and has cloaked herself in a protective armor of insults, cutting remarks and verbal barbs as a way of keeping everyone at arm’s length. The exception is Silvana (Adriana Barraza, in another winning turn), Claire’s borderline-saintly, ever-patient housekeeper, who – despite being on the receiving end of Claire’s acid tongue and erratic behavior – sees through the psychological barbed wire and recognizes the hurt beneath.
Suicidal but indecisive, Claire becomes distracted from her life’s downward trajectory when she meets Roy (Sam Worthington), the widower of a fellow chronic-pain patient (Anna Kendrick), who did commit suicide. Curious-to-the-point-of-obsession about the last days of her late friend’s life, Claire begins spending more and more time with Roy – which, in turn, begins to make her question her plans for the future as she simultaneously begins to deal with her past.
Much has been made of Aniston’s performance in the film and with good reason. Claire is a marked change from Aniston’s usual roles, and an incredibly unlikeable character, but Aniston manages to add enough hints (however fleeting) of humanity that the audience is able to see Claire the way Silvana does. Equally important in that dynamic is Barraza, who once again delivers a stellar, heartwarming performance as a selfless woman trying to save someone she cares about from drowning in her own grief. The relationship between the two is the emotional anchor and what makes the film work.
Narratively, Cake is something of a downer – patience is key in getting through a lot of negativity in order to catch the positive moments. Going in, I was worried that the story would leave me depressed by the time the credits rolled but, though much of what transpires does fall under the “well, that’s depressing” umbrella, it does ultimately possess enough hope to keep it from being an overwhelmingly bleak tale. Instead, it’s a raw, honest look at how pain can easily swallow you whole if you let it.