The Cake Eaters

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Tribeca Film Festival

A 57th and Irving and The 7th Floor production

NEW YORK -- "The Cake Eaters," actress Mary Stuart Masterson's directorial debut, shows a good command of cinema. Shots are interesting, editing is neat and performances are generally convincing. The dialogue by scripter Jayce Bartok is occasionally clumsy, but "The Cake Eaters" succeeds as a comfy ensemble piece about working-class life in upstate New York. Limited theatrical distribution is a possibility, and attractive young cast members should help. But its gentle MOW-style theme, which fuses love and sickness, would seem better suited to television.

The story focuses on a trio of awkward, interconnected romances. At the forefront is Georgia (Kristen Stewart), a young woman with a disease of the nervous system, Friedriech's Ataxia. Georgia realizes she can't live a normal life, but wants to experience love and sex all the same. She targets moody youth Beagle (Aaron Stanford), who's grieving for his recently deceased mother, for an affair.

Meanwhile, Beagle's dad Easy (Bruce Dern) seems rather interested in Georgia's grandmother (Elizabeth Ashley). Drama is added when Beagle's long-lost brother Guy (the screenwriter Bartok) returns from New York City to try to rekindle a failed romance.

Stewart plays the sick girl with just the right amount of modulation: She shows she's ailing, but never mugs the audience for sympathy. She also adds an unexpected feral dimension to the role. Her scenes with Stanford, who's gloomy but likable, perfectly encapsulate the awkwardness of youth when faced with sex and love for the first time.

Dern's elderly romance is faulted by unsatisfactory dialogue, although it's still nice to see aging characters allowed to let their hair down on screen. The third love affair, between elder brother Guy and an old flame, never really catches fire.

Camerawork by Peter Masterson is careful and well planned. Soft lighting and a soundtrack featuring breezy acoustic guitars accentuate the melancholic tone of the piece, which thankfully stops short of mawkishness. The story is certainly predictable, but it contains just enough conflict and drama to engage the viewer.

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