When darkly funny comedy drama Cake made its first appearance in the run up to the 2015 awards season, Hollywood pundits delivered a predictable verdict. Jennifer Aniston’s performance as a woman stricken with chronic pain was her bid for Oscar approval.
She didn’t get an Oscar nomination, as it happens, but her resolutely unglamorous portrayal of sharp-tongued, pill popping, chronically depressed Los Angeles lawyer Claire Bennett is very good: easily award-worthy.
What makes it particularly admirable is that Aniston doesn’t court sympathy for her prickly character – and nor do director Daniel Barnz and screenwriter Patrick Tobin, who ensure we only glimpse the tragic causes of Claire’s condition in fleeting asides.
Instead, they establish the debilitating grind of her daily existence and reveal that she has alienated almost everyone in her life – including her husband Jason (Chris Messina) and the members of her chronic-pain sufferers support group.
The sole exception is long-suffering maid Silvana (Adriana Barraza, excellent), whose patience and down-to-earth care is the only thing that sustains Claire – apart, that is, from her obsession with the suicide of fellow chronic-pain sufferer Nina (Anna Kendrick), who appears to her as a disapproving hallucinatory ghost. And it is Claire’s need to discover more about Nina leads her to track down the dead woman’s widower Roy (Sam Worthington) and young son.
Showing commendable restraint, the filmmakers avoid easy consolation and don’t give the story a romantic turn, although they don’t quite prevent sentiment seeping in before the end. But Aniston’s deadpan comic timing as she delivers Claire’s bitter put-downs and complaints is brilliant from start to finish: the deliciously sour cherry on the cake.
Certificate 15. Runtime 98 mins. Director Daniel Barnz
Cake is available on Blu-ray & DVD from Warner Home VBideo and makes its satellite TV debut on Sky Movies Premiere today.