Monday, June 29, 2015

Let Them Eat Cake

Jennifer Aniston as the newly suffering Claire, tries to find salvation in all the wrong places.
Cake (2014) starring Jennifer Aniston and an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink supporting cast including husband and wife team Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy, Anna Kendrick, Chris Messina, and Sam Worthington is a film I avoided. I heard a few things here and there about how Jen should have been nominated, but that's about it. It was there and then it disappeared. When it reappeared on Netflix, I took a bite (pun intended) and I really did love it. 
As a movie, it IS flawed. The script is very thin, and the premise is somewhat ridiculous. What carries the film is the performance of Aniston, and the character of Silvana, Aniston's character's long-suffering maid (played brilliantly by Adriana Barraza). It opens on one of those scenes where all of the exposition is right there. At some kind of support group, so we already know that Aniston's character; Claire is or has gone through something. We notice that she's covered in scars and barely moves and is addicted so much to pain killers she makes her maid drive her to Tijuana for refills when her doctors finally cut her off. It's not hard to figure out what actually happened, and even though the film tiptoes around that reveal, what it does do is offer some amazing albeit off-putting nuances about grief, suicide, hopelessness, loss, and redemption. This isn't Shawshank, but in it's simplicity it finds its niche.  
Desperate for company but loathing the idea of being around other people. Who hasn't had that paradox?
Now I don't get personal too often but there are aspects of Claire that I completely understood from the minute the film started playing. I understand why she's so resistent to help and treatment and what she sees as people telling her what to do, moreover what she sees as people who don't know what she's going through telling her how to get better.
She shuns everyone, except for an apparition of a girl from her support group who killed herself who doesn't appear as a friendly ghost filled with wisdom but taunts her about her selfishness and about how crass and self-serving her attitude is and how it is hurting those who love her. Many times people who have experienced trauma and loss want to dig a hole and cover it up after them, be alone, and shun everyone around them. They drown their sorrows because they don't see how it could possibly get better, and a lot of us are alienated by that. Which is totally understandable. 

During the climactic scene of the film, Claire's hallucination finally offers up some sage advice that ends up turning Claire's attitude around. 
Aniston's growth as an actress has never been more prevalent and transparent than in this role, which she wasn't even the first choice for. And what she brings to the internal transformation of Claire is so much more honest than any episode of Intervention that you might catch on A&E, though her problem is not drugs, it's only a symptom of her depravity. Of course the resolution to this kind of story is written into the script within the first 5 minutes; They will figure all of that out and change their ways, which does happen but not in the cliche way we've all grown tired of. There are some insanely funny scenes that perhaps shouldn't be, and the surreal aspect of it doesn't seem to mesh well, but then after a while, you get it, even though again, the script is pretty thin. It's a mediocre film effort, but for one reason or another I enjoyed it. I identified with the characters, (all of them) and though there's barely a plot, it does work. As I said, it's not a story about redemption, nor is it a story about the human condition in the Jean-Paul Sartre way as in we're all dying what's the point? It's just about people, the worst of us and the best of us, and how both incarnations are inside each of us at all times. It's streaming on Netflix, I'd recommend it but with caution. 

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