'Cake': What the Critics Are Saying

Jennifer Aniston takes a dramatic turn in Daniel Barnz's indie as a woman dealing with chronic pain alongside Anna Kendrick, Sam Worthington and Adriana Barraza.

Cake has Jennifer Aniston taking a dramatic turn as Claire, a woman dealing with chronic pain and addiction while trying to piece together the life of a late support group member (Anna Kendrick).

Aniston earned SAG, Golden Globe and Critics' Choice nominations for her performance in the indie drama, directed by Daniel Barnz and also featuring Sam Worthington, Chris Messina, Felicity Huffman, William H. Macy, Mamie Gummer and Adriana Barraza.

See what top critics are saying about Cake:

The Hollywood Reporter's Leslie Felperin writes, "Covered in prosthetic scars and made up to look as dowdy and unglamorous as someone in cashmere sweatpants can look, Aniston submits an honest, sturdy performance. However, the film ... is less emotionally potent than it wants to be, and feels as if it might have been overmedicated by script doctoring to make it more palatable to Aniston’s fan base. ... The road map the film draws for recovery comes straight out of the atlas of trauma-drama psychotherapy, prescribing that in order to heal any devastated individual in question must have a big hysterical screaming scene, weep a lot in a jump-cut montage sequence, and hit rock bottom before turning to loved ones — in this case Barrazza’s longsuffering Silvana — for redemptive forgiveness and support. Cake follows this narrative trajectory with dogged scrupulousness, which rather drains any sense of surprise or originality from the movie, however well Aniston performs the required maneuvers."

Additionally, "even more problematic is the way everyone in the film, including the protagonist, describe Claire as a 'bitch,' and yet she doesn’t really do anything all that bitchy or mean. ... One can’t help wondering if earlier drafts of the script gave the character more opportunity to be venomous but the end result got watered down somewhere along the way. Ultimately, the film is better at comedy than it is at the tragic stuff, and Aniston’s redoubtable comic timing never fails her. The back and forth between her and Barrazza has substantial fizzle and in the end the movie is more perceptive about the unique, intimate relationships domestics and employers form between them than it is about pain and grief."

The New York Times' Manohla Dargis notes, "The spectacle of female suffering has produced a lot of great movies; Cake is not one of them. It’s the sort of well-intentioned independent effort that can make criticism feel like overkill. There’s nothing to hate, nothing to love. The movie’s greatest virtue is that it gives Aniston a little room to play against the somewhat sardonic tough-cookie type that she deploys in vulgar comedies, like We’re the Millers, in which she both gets the job done and rises enough above the material to stroll away unscathed. ... The movie hits so many familiar beats that it’s impossible not to see what’s next. It does what you expect at almost every turn, even with some hallucinations that, with one piercing exception, seem calculated to keep real hurt at bay."

Los Angeles Times' Sheri Linden echoes, "As an accident victim whose nearly every move is excruciating, Aniston lends the role an impressively agonized physicality and brings ace timing to the screenplay's welcome gallows humor. It's a letdown that the film itself ... doesn't take half the chances its leading lady does and is content to paddle around the shallows rather than plunge into the deep end. ... As Cake devolves into familiar territory concerning grieving, it loses its specificity and drive — if not Aniston's acerbity — and goes soft. It's as if the filmmakers are reaching for the closure that, so understandably, galled Claire at the outset."

USA Today's Claudia Puig gives the film two stars out of four, and praises Barrazza's performance alongside Aniston's, as Barrazza "nearly steals the film." However, "the story of what brought her so low takes too long to piece together, unfolding at such a lugubrious pace that it risks losing our attention. Even when the full picture emerges, it feels only partially conceived, making it hard to become invested in Claire's sad saga. ... A host of cameos only serve as distractions, essentially diversions from Claire's unmitigated crankiness. ... Much of the fault lies with Patrick Tobin's amorphous screenplay, with ho-hum dialogue that offers no fresh revelations about complicated topics."

The Guardian's Catherine Shoard says, "It’s — admirably — light on histrionics; just a humdrum yet hokey study of the effects of chronic pain. Nor will it make any cash, for it’s about as fun to watch as sciatica." She also calls the cameos "distracting" and adds that the film has "a redemptive arc you could trace with your eyes shut. ... Despite its sour centre, Cake’s conceits quickly crumble, leaving just a half-baked pity."