2015 saw the release of a film that showcased what might be thought of as Jennifer Aniston’s most revealing and dramatic role. Ignoring the middling reviews allows an engagement with an understated and powerful performance and a chance for Aniston to take centre stage.
DIRECTOR: Daniel Barnz
CHARACTER NAME AND PROFESSION: Claire Bennett, former lawyer
PLOT SUMMARY: Claire is recovering from an accident that killed her young son and left her with chronic back pain, after having pins in her legs for a year. Divorced from her husband Jason (Chris Messina), she attends a support group, which she finds unhelpful, and relies largely on her carer Silvana (Adrianna Barraza) for companionship and support. Claire becomes fascinated by the suicide of another chronic pain sufferer, Nina (Anna Kendrick) and is haunted by visions of her.
CHARACTER TRAITS: Resentful, pragmatic, insensitive, loyal, honest.
NOTES ON PERFORMANCE: Aniston here demonstrates astonishing control and command of her emotional range and physicality, portraying with a sense of hidden charisma, a person just holding on to the world. Cake presents a person affected by great tragedy, without labouring what it is Claire has lost, or the details of the person she was before it happened, and in her performance Aniston delves fully into the misery of all this, without giving the audience the respite of what a ‘nice’ person she might have been before.
NOTES ON FILM: Cake should be celebrated for showcasing what Aniston is capable of when she’s given the chance to carry a film. Despite a preconception of such a grim subject as being awards-bait, the film is refreshing in that it allows Aniston to underplay, and is far from providing the kind of revelatory third act that most dramatic, bereavement related films might use. It would be very easy to critique Cake for what’s its not, instead of praising where it gets things right, for which Aniston’s performance is a factor that cannot be overstated enough. Barraza is also excellent, making Silvana a rounded character with her own motivations and life away from her role as carer. Cake is a hard sell, but when considered alongside the likes of Still Alice, or Clouds of Sils Maria, it’s demonstrable as one of 2015’s most accomplished pieces about a woman in middle-age, and a central performance that’s worth viewing alone.
CONCLUSION: Finally, it’s all about Aniston.