Wednesday, January 21, 2015

She wuz robbed! Jennifer Aniston is terrific in Barnz and Tobin's smart and deeply-felt CAKE

Well, she got a Golden Globes nod, but nothing from those classier awards, the "Oscars." Over her more than 25-year career, Jennifer Aniston has given a number for first-class performances (have you seen The Good Girl or Life of Crime?), occasionally in movies that were anything but. Nothing I've as yet seen this attractive and gifted actress do begins to compare with her work in CAKE, the new movie about a woman who spends her waking hours either sedated or in heavy-duty pain. Why she's in this state is told us in fits and starts by the intelligent, riveting screenplay by Patrick Tobin and directed extremely well -- neither overdone nor under-done -- by Daniel Barnz (of Phoebe in Wonderland and Won't Back Down). This is Barnz's best work by far.

If the movie sounds like a recipe for depression, be assured that, while it does not skirt the state of being in constant pain -- which Ms Aniston brings to full and horrific life -- the actress is so alive and on target with each thought that crosses her mind and emotion that fills her face, that she keeps us at near-constant attention and, yes, delight. She's that good. (If you have ever experienced any lengthy and severe pain, you'll be aware of how well the actress captures the body movements that must accompany this.) And Mr. Barnz, shown at left, uses just the right touch to bring her story to solid, alternately awful and funny, life. And although the actress, below, looks far from her usual, sporty glamour, her perfor-mance is less a make-up tour de force than genuine, from-the-gut acting.

Fortunately for the film, Tobin and Barnz have more on their mind than simple story-telling. Instead, they give us a lot of fantasy and flashback -- often merging the two into the kind of thing that someone on a combo of pain and prescription drugs might experience.

These most often consist of the use of actress Anna Kendrick (above) -- in what is certainly one of her more bizarre roles -- as the dead woman who once belonged to the "Pain" support group to which Claire (Aniston's character's name) also belonged.

Also vital to the story's success is the character played by Adriana Barraza (above, right) as Claire's caregiver and all-round support. Having myself experienced the joys of a first-class care-giver (we had one who assisted my spouse's mother, who lived with us for the last decade of her life), I can vouch for the importance of a person like this, as well as to the great depth and truth -- all the love that she shows, in addition to the necessary anger -- in Ms Barraza's fine performance.

Yes, there are some men in Claire's life, too: one from the past -- her ex-husband, played beautifully by Chris Messina (above) -- and a new one, played with cracked charm by Sam Worthington (below). There are some children, too, one of which occupies a very special place in things and whom we do not see for quite awhile.

Cake turns out to be about not just pain but loss, too: the major kind that will remain for the rest of one's life. Without becoming at all maudlin or pushing for tears, the movie probes the psychological aspects of Claire's pain and why, even with the all exercises and therapy she has completed, no relief is yet in sight.

Through it all, Ms Aniston keeps her hurt, her anger and her humor front and center. It's that last one, dark and dirty as it often is, that helps keep the movie blasting on all cylinders. In the supporting cast are a wealth of fine performers, with special commen-dation to actors such as William H. Macy (shown at left) as a sudden re-intruder into our heroine's life, and Felicity Huffman as the put-upon leader of that women-in-pain support group.

The movie -- from Cinelou and running 102 minutes -- opens this Friday in New York City at the AMC Loew's Lincoln Square 13, in L.A. at the AMC Century City 15, and in the Chicago area at Showplace Icon at the Roosevelt Collection with Icon IX, and probably elsewhere, too.

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