Not just a pretty face

Jennifer Aniston in Cake’

2 minute read
Aniston puts a "brave" face on her performance in "Cake."
Aniston puts a "brave" face on her performance in "Cake."

Peeling the onion is one way to get to know the layers of a character. Another way, I discovered recently, is the layering of a cake. Instead of taking away, the movie Cake, written by Patrick Tobin, puts ingredients together. The end result: something beautiful and tasty, even if a little bittersweet.

We first meet Claire (Jennifer Aniston) in a support group, but we’re not told for what. We realize, quickly, that she’s angry, but we’re not told why. Claire wants to shut the world out — her scars and her pain are visible, but how did they happen?

Cake, a drama with lighter, comedic moments, tells the story of a woman grappling with one of the hardest things in life: loss. She’s feeling it on many levels, and we see that the minute we meet her. But instead of being told her whole story upfront, we get to know her as if we would in person: we learn, bit by bit, layer added to layer over time. Aniston, whom we know from Friends and her coverage by the tabloids, gives a performance that is well-rounded, honest, raw, and real.

Not only does the audience learn about her as the layers come together, she learns more, too — about herself, the people around her, the process of dealing with loss and of rolling with life, even when it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard.

What’s the story?

When the movie came out, people lauded Aniston — for not wearing makeup. That’s a daring choice? Would the same amazement and attention have been given to a man who made the same decision? And would I even have noticed she wasn’t wearing any if I hadn’t been told?

People with preconceived notions of Aniston, who’s known more for romantic comedies (in full makeup, apparently), may be shocked at her character’s appearance and demeanor: Claire looks like a woman in emotional and physical pain. That’s called acting. They might be surprised by the depth of Aniston’s talent – she was excellent.

With or without decoration, Cake blended together to make an entertaining, enlightening, engaging, and emotional film that had me rooting for Claire, that made me laugh, that brought me to tears. Good thing that, like Aniston, I wasn’t wearing mascara. It would have been running down my face in reaction to her daring: not in her bare-faced appearance, but in her soul-bearing performance.

What, When, Where

Cake. Written by Patrick Tobin. Daniel Barnz directed. Available on DVD & Blu-ray and via streaming on Netflix.

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