Cake Review
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Ever since she played Rachel Green on TV’s Friends, Jennifer Aniston has been America’s sweetheart (and sometimes our hairstyle muse, too). Lately, though, after years of lovable girl-next-door roles, she’s started taking on more challenging films, playing strippers, foul-mouthed dentists, and now a troubled woman who’s battling her demons in director Daniel Barnz’s Cake.

Cake stars Aniston as Claire, a blunt, sarcastic woman who becomes obsessed with the suicide of Nina (Anna Kendrick), a woman from her chronic pain support group. Always accompanied by her loyal housekeeper, Silvana (Adriana Barraza), she sets out to uncover information about Nina’s death—a search that eventually leads her to Nina’s widower, Roy (Sam Worthington). And as she and Roy begin a strange and awkward kind of friendship, Claire is forced to face the tragedy in her own past.

Cake isn’t an easy film to watch—and not just because of Aniston’s perpetually greasy locks. It tackles all kinds of difficult topics: pain, grief, addiction, and suicide. And it does so in a way that feels real—not in the fluffy, agreeable kind of way. Claire’s obsession with Nina’s suicide isn’t just a punch line; it’s a real struggle. Roy doesn’t just accept his wife’s choice. He’s not just sad and lonely; he’s angry. And although the film doesn’t always explore those emotions in great depth, they’re always there, bubbling up through the characters’ actions.

Fortunately, Aniston helps to make the whole thing a little more palatable. Claire may be bitter and often bitingly sarcastic. She’s also pushy and demanding, and she takes advantage of those who offer to help her. But her rants are often shockingly inappropriate in a way that makes them amusing. And, at the same time, it’s clear that this isn’t who Claire really is. She’s not really a horrible person; she’s just a person who’s had to endure so much pain—both physical and emotional—that she’s built walls around herself. At times, she shows just a hint of the woman who’s locked inside—the woman who cares about other people, who’s capable of being kind and thoughtful. And, with the help of Roy and his son, those walls slowly begin to crumble.

This is definitely a different role for Aniston. It’s grittier and more dramatic than the same old chick flicks and crazy comedies. And while it isn’t the kind of jaw-dropping transformation that some other actresses have undergone, it’s still a daring and memorable performance—one that’s sure to take Aniston’s career in another new direction.

Cake isn’t as light and fluffy as its title may suggest. It’s a heavy and emotional film about pain and suffering and loss but it’s also highlighted by a surprisingly gritty performance by a lovable star.

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