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Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - ON STAGE -

IFE is pain co­cooned within ex­tended pe­ri­ods of con­tent­ment and the mun­dane.

At some point, we all have to con­tend with that ex­quis­ite suf­fer­ing, which seems like it might con­sume us, but it’s how we emerge from the black­ness that ul­ti­mately de­fines us as strong, re­silient crea­tures.

The em­bit­tered pro­tag­o­nist of Cake has been so deeply scarred – phys­i­cally and emo­tion­ally – by her pain that she is toxic to ev­ery­one who or­bits her.

In Daniel Barnz’ film, this font of bile and foul-mouthed mis­ery is por­trayed with bedrag­gled hair and make-up dis­fig­ure­ments by Jen­nifer Anis­ton.

It’s a com­pelling dra­matic per­for­mance, stripped bare of van­ity, which re­minds us that the Los An­ge­les-born actress is much more than the rom-com girl next door.

Un­for­tu­nately, Anis­ton’s eye­catch­ing work is the glis­ten­ing cherry on top of a half-baked drama that proves in­creas­ingly hard to swallow.

If scriptwriter Pa­trick Tobin had treated his mix of mis­fit char­ac­ters with more care and sieved out some of the im­plau­si­ble dra­matic de­tours, Anis­ton would prob­a­bly have se­cured her first Os­car nom­i­na­tion as Best Actress.

Claire Bennett (Anis­ton) sur­vived the car crash that shat­tered her body, but her road to re­cov­ery is ag­o­nis­ingly long and wind­ing.

She can’t sit or stand with­out en­dur­ing shoot­ing pain, which she curbs by pop­ping pre­scrip­tion med­i­ca­tion like candy.

Her de­spair­ing hus­band Ja­son (Chris Messina) and friends have aban­doned her, driven away by Claire’s per­pet­ual mean­ness – ev­ery­one ex­cept for her maid Sil­vana (Adri­ana Bar­raza), whose de­vo­tion to an un­car­ing, self­de­struc­tive boss is a com­plete mys­tery to ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing us.

“I pay her to care about me. It’s not my fault she gets sen­ti­men­tal,” ob­serves Claire by way of a fee­ble ex­pla­na­tion.

When Nina Collins (Anna Ken­drick), a fel­low mem­ber of a chronic pain sup­port group, com­mits sui­cide, Claire de­vel­ops a new ad­dic­tion – gate-crash­ing the grief of Nina’s hus­band Roy (Sam Wor­thing­ton) and young son Casey ( Evan O’Toole).

How­ever, Roy doesn’t in­tend to don his shin­ing ar­mour and makes this clear to Claire.

“I can’t save you. can barely save my­self and my kid,” he con­fides som­brely.

Cake is an un­even bake, dis­tin­guished by Anis­ton’s com­mit­ted per­for­mance and a warm, em­pa­thetic sup­port­ing turn from Bar­raza.

Even when the rest of Barnz’ film crum­bles, which it does fre­quently, their sis­terly sol­i­dar­ity holds our in­ter­est.

Throw­away in­ter­ludes with a hunky gar­dener (Manuel Gar­ci­aRulfo) and a man from the past (Wil­liam H Macy) sit awk­wardly with scriptwriter Tobin’s ef­forts to in­sert Nina’s ghost into pro­ceed­ings.

Ken­drick has fun as this spec­tral voice of waspish rea­son, be­rat­ing Anis­ton’s short-tem­pered, self­ish har­ri­dan, who is acutely aware of the role she plays in her mis­er­able fairy-tale ex­is­tence.

“Tell me a story where ev­ery­thing works out in the end for the evil witch,” sourly jokes Claire.

That story would be Cake.

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