Thursday, January 22, 2015

Aniston Makes CAKE

She's a middle-aged blonde in her nice home in the Los Angeles hills.  She's got Percocet, Oxycontin and a glass of white wine as she watches the handsome Mexican hunk do maintenance work in her backyard.  Quick with a snappy verbal comeback, Claire's quick wit does not hide the fact that she is scarred on the outside and on the inside.  And her support group doesn't seem able to help her ease her chronic pain as well as the hunk cleaning her small pool may be able to.  She needs relief.
Jennifer Aniston is good in this drama called CAKE.  She works hard to make you feel every cramp and sore in Claire's body.  Why is Claire scarred?  There was an accident.  What are the sore spots in her heart?  Who left a hole in it?  Well, that's the woman she talks about in her support group.  Nina, played by Anna Kendrick, committed suicide and visits Claire in dreams.  Claire visits the spot where Nina jumped to her death.  She visits Nina's widower.  What about Claire?  Was she married?
The one person who sees Claire's pain just about every day and tries to keep Claire from doing something loopy that will cause her more pain is her exhausted Mexican housekeeper.  She's pretty much worn out from taking care of the house and being somewhat of a nursemaid to Claire.  Silvana cleans the house.  Silvana cooks. Silvana drives Claire to the freeway overpass when Nina jumped.  Silvana drives her to Tijuana to get a load of prescription drugs.  Claire is nervous she'll get caught smuggling the drugs back across the border.  The pharmacist says, "You're a rich white woman.  Have you ever been caught at anything?"

Adriana Barraza is excellent as the frustrated housekeeper with a family of her own.  Cake is not a movie in which the Mexican housekeeper is pretty much just a household appliance.  Claire and Silvana have history.  That history builds and sparks in Cake.  Silvana is not a one-dimensional character.  Politically liberal Claire is fully aware of class divisions and how they make working class people feel inferior.  When she talks about Orange County, California to Silvana, I broke up laughing.  My parents said the same things about Orange County when I was a little boy in the 1960s.  Some things never change.  I grew up in Los Angeles.  At first, the housekeeper character made me cringe because, once again, here was a movie in which the Mexican woman was a domestic in a California home.  The Mexican-American women in my community were registered nurses, postal employees, schoolteachers, supermarket clerks, office managers, local librarians, dental assistants and such.  I long to see a movie about Southern California suburban characters in which the middle-aged Hispanic woman isn't the domestic help. Just sayin'.  But when Silvana gets fed up in the last act, Adriana Barraza really brought it home in that scene and gives more juice to the housekeeper role.
The title makes sense.  There will be cake.  We will discover Claire's emotional pain.  The big question is...will she have the toughness to move on from all that rage and chronic pain.  Will she come to terms with the suicide of her friend, Nina?

Felicity Huffman does such a marvelous job as the mousey, neurotic support group leader who's intimidated by Claire that you wonder why she didn't have a bunch of other excellent movie scripts after her well-deserved Best Actress Oscar nomination for 2005's Transamerica.
Aniston's Claire is funny, sad, smart, irresponsible, tough, weak, compassionate and -- above all -- human.  It's a smart and risky performance.  It's risky because she dared to challenge her lucrative TV image.  This is a bit like the Farrah Fawcett career move.  Like Fawcett, Aniston was famous for an entertaining TV series (Charlie's Angels) and her hairstyle.  A hairstyle that many female viewers copied.  Farrah Fawcett dropped the glamour, ditched the salon haircare and went dramatic in 1984'a The Burning Bed to gain respectability as an actress.  For her performance as the battered low-income wife who kills her husband, she earned solid reviews for her acting.  It's obvious that Aniston wants to grow as an actress.  In Cake,  Aniston relentlessly pushes herself to be relevant in this middle-aged role and aims to do the actor's work.  Her purpose is to move on from a popular character she played in her youth.  In that regard, the former Friends sitcom star is like Michael Keaton's character in Birdman.  Cake presents the best performance of Jennifer Aniston's film career.  And the most surprising one.  In the category of films in which there's a suicide attempt, this is not as satisfying, not as potent and tender as The Skeleton Twins with Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader (also known for NBC comedy work) but it does show us a more mature Aniston.  It's interesting to watch her get serious about her film career.  Her previous movie was Horrible Bosses 2.  Sitting through that dog made me want Percocet, Oxycontin and a glass of white wine.  I'll take Cake over Horrible Bosses 2 any day.

I had a very dear friend who made me laugh, who was generous with her time and advice, gave me confidence in my talents, constantly lifted my spirits...and then broke my heart when she killed herself.  Jennifer Aniston knew her too.  They worked together.  She was on the Friends promotional team at NBC.  Gail was very dear to the Friends cast.  I wonder if Aniston called up feelings about her when playing Claire.


Cake opens this Friday, January 23rd.

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