Dir: Daniel Barnz- Wri: Patrick Tobin-Exec Prod: Jennifer Aniston, Shyam Madiraju-Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Adrianna Barraza, Anna Kendrick, Sam Worthington
The first movie I see of the year was Cake. Happy new year! Not quite. As far as movies of 2015 I started off with a sad one and it’s sad for a couple of reasons. Cake centers around Claire (Jennifer Aniston) a single woman effected by a recent trauma, not really trying to overcome her difficulties. She is a former layer with a law degree from UCLA, a recent divorcee and survivor of something tragic. The movie alludes to a near death experience through the focus on Claire’s scars, her narrow ability to move, pain killers, and a ghost. Claire is fragile: physically, emotionally, and psychologically and is so drugged up that she is the epitome of nihilism. And in the engrossment of such an attitude and mind state, she treats the people around her, mostly women ( her support group, her motherly Mexican maid and best friend, Silvanna, played by Adrianna Barraza, as well as the memory of her dead support group member: Nina, played Anna Kendrick) as if they are zombies and not her. Throughout the movie, Claire can barely walk or take a car ride sitting up–the reason why is kept from us. Nina’s ghost just keeps alluding to the fact the Claire is a coward for not trying to move on and Claire agrees. What at first seems like a film about women helping women, due to an orienting establishing shot of an all woman support group, a woman doctor (who’s daughter wants to go to UCLA, and who encourages the support group: “Women helping Women”) the maid, a female physical therapist and even Nina, who haunts Claire–turns into a psychological, indie drama without the charm, wit or intelligence of the ones before it (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation, The Squid and the Whale, Rachel Getting Married, Silver Lining Playbook, I can go on) and turns into a boring episode of a woman not quite trying to get it together. Weirdly enough, the more Claire opens up and starts to confront Nina’s death, the more the film space becomes dominated by men: the people she runs to for help, particularly Nina’s husband, Roy (Sam Worthington).
Many things ran through my mind as I saw the dynamics between the women in this film, and the relationship women have with men. Claire’s relationship to women is more of a battleground than it is support group. Why? We don’t know. Claire’s relationship to men (equal to the framing of men in the movie) is one of dominance and mistrust. I know, you want to ring the feminist bell. But Claire as well as the camera’s feeling towards men is quite elementary. Most of the men, if not all of them are at the service of Claire. Her Mexican gardner whom she has a painful (both emotionally and physically) sexual encounter (with implications of previous sexual interaction) her ex husband who appears first by telephone, then in real life, a male employee positioned in service to the women in the pool during Claire’s rehabilitation, Roy, who is equally numb and lonely, a Mexican pharmacist who gives her drugs without a prescription, and even a small statue of St. Jude, the patron saint of lost and deserted causes. How the men stat to appear in this film, balance out with how women disappear or become talking heads to Claire, (including Nina). You start to see that Claire’s spaces start to become invaded by men–or maybe welcomed.
Director Daniel Barnz’ poor job of alluding to things about Claire’s past and the timing of revelation of information makes the film boring. It’s a mix of interesting ideas but not a solid story. It makes me think this was a cheap way to make a “Women’s” film, and to capitalize on the depressing but funny indie drama that indie films continuously recycle. Only this time that they changed the main character to woman. But the mixture of indie drama and surrealism at best, provides a platform for Barraza and Aniston’s acting talents. Their on-screen chemistry carry the movie, and make for an entertaining duo. Unfortunately the dynamic between them is racist, classist, and representative of an attitude in current mainstream feminism. White women problems go first, women of color’s go second. I can also say that a film about a woman dealing with depression, loneliness, suicide, potential female bonding, and reconciliation, should probably be made by a woman. Or else you just might promote the falsity: that white men always save the day.