“I think that we need some closure…”
I winced –actually winced and there’s not something that everybody admits to in real life—when the head of a chronic pain support group utters these words at the beginning of Daniel Barnz’s Cake.
It’s one of those irritating statements that must have originated in America, probably on The Oprah Winfrey Show. That opinion is probably inaccurate and unfair of me, but there you go: I tend to associate half the bullshit psychobabble that found its way across the Atlantic in the last couple of decades with that show. And for all I know she was responsible for such weird things as ‘chronic pain support groups’ as well. Sorry, Oprah.
“I think that we need some closure.” Why? Who says? Maybe I don’t feel like closure on all the shit things (some my own fault; some sheer bastardly bad luck) that have happened in my life. Maybe I want to hold onto my anger.
In that way I’m like Claire. She’s not overly trying to get better from the unspecified accident that has left her scarred, in constant pain and addicted to pills and possibly booze. She’s a member of this group because she has to be. And when she comes out with a few self-loathing beauties that don’t fit in with the pre-conceived Steps to Recovery of these whingers, they show their compassion by phoning her (of course) and asking her to stay away from their group and maybe sort out her anger management issues.
Yep, that‘s the way they talk; and I think that it’s fair to say that whether or not I was supposed to, I warmed to Claire from the first.
I think that it’s likely most people will have gone to this film in order to see how Jennifer Aniston fares in a straight role. It’s probably why I did, too. I like Aniston, always have; and even in stuff like Wanderlust and We’re the Millers –both of which I find very funny – I’ve always felt that there was a ‘serious’ actress (like doing comedy isn’t demanding; but you know what I mean) just waiting to get out.
Well, put it this way. Claire wears heavy makeup to cover her scars and looks out at the world from a face that stays as immobile as she can keep it. It’s not a showy performance with over-the-top dramatics: it is simply a woman not trying to make an issue of how much pain she’s in. And within a very short while you forget that it is an actress playing a role.
It’s a real pity that Patrick Tobin’s script doesn’t have the same impact as the character of Claire. Yes, it works well that we are kept in the dark as to the nature of her accident; but apart from the wonderfully-realised relationship with her maid, played superbly and also with a lack of actress-y artifice by Adrianna Barraza, much of the film seems flat and afterwards forgettable.
I found the device of having a member of the group who has committed suicide start appearing to Claire in hallucinations clunky in the extreme:
“What’s stopping you [from killing yourself]? You don’t believe in God or Heaven or Hell. You don’t believe in anything.”
Nor does she believe in forgiveness. And for that I loved Claire. She has no forgiveness at all in her for the man who has done this –whatever ‘this’ was—to her. Up until I realised that, I kept thinking that Sean Penn’s The Crossing Guard had explored similar territory far better. Claire’s uncompromising attitude, however, was very much to my taste– and closure be damned.
Ultimately, and with due respect to Adrianna Barraza’s performance, Cake is Jennifer Aniston’s film all the way. I would imagine that some very interesting roles are in the offing for her now – but it’s hard to see how she’ll better this work for a while to come.