Director: Daniel Barnz (Won’t Back Down)
Writer: Patrick Tobin
Producers: Ben Barnz, Mark Canton, Kristin Hahn, Courtney Solomon
Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Adriana Barraza, Anna Kendrick, Sam Worthington, Mamie Gummer, Felicity Huffman, William H. Macy
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 102 min.
Over ten years ago, Jennifer Aniston gave a performance that demonstrated a depth and rawness in her work that we hadn’t seen before. The movie was The Good Girl, and until now it had been a pure oddity on her resume. It was released near the tail end of the run of “Friends,” one of the most popular American television programs of all-time and the launching pad for Aniston’s position as one of those “nation’s sweetheart” type of actresses who was able to hit a broad demographic thanks to her vanilla likability. Once the show ended, Aniston stuck squarely to that path, with the few early diversions (dark thriller Derailed and indie Friends with Money) not showing the kind of talent that we had seen her quietly unearth in Good Girl. Things kept in line from then on, with Aniston showing up time and again in lame, derivative romantic comedies that provided nothing but diminishing returns.
Thankfully, a few years ago some kind of switch turned in her creative decision making. While she still found herself in the comedic realm, Aniston began to take on slightly more daring projects like the black-humored Horrible Bosses, which allowed her to go against-type as a sex-crazed dentist, and Wanderlust, a bizarre bit of highly-exaggerated farce from the mind of David Wain. Neither film did much to shape the fully-formed public opinion of Aniston, but they showed a willingness to stretch herself that we hadn’t seen in a long time. That desire for growth has reached its crowning point with her newest venture, Daniel Barnz’s Cake, a drama with a capital D. Cake premiered at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, but it feels so much more like a Sundance staple. It’s got all the trademarks: comedic actor going into heavy drama, swimming pools as a metaphor, main character with suicidal thoughts, a dead kid, Anna Kendrick. Cake has so much of the stereotypical indie movie cliches going on, in fact, that it never allows itself to become about more than the stretched-out tropes it uses to fill up its narrative beats.
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