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‘Cake’ is less confection than bitter pill

Director Daniel Barnz’s “Cake” is less confection than bitter pill, and goes down pretty hard over its 102-minute run time.

Despite that, former “Friends” star Jennifer Aniston gives a showy performance as a woman scarred both physically and emotionally six months after a life-altering accident that has left her in chronic pain and, understandably, not in the best disposition. However, Aniston’s character, Claire Bennett, takes anger and self-pity to the depths, perpetually popping pain pills and leaving a trail of aborted relationships in her wake because of her relentless negativity.

Claire browbeats her eternally patient Mexican housekeeper, Silvana, sensitively portrayed by Oscar-nominated actress Adriana Barraza, and freezes out her estranged husband, Jason, played by Chris Messina in a woefully underwritten part.

Such a bitter pill is Claire that she’s kicked out of her support group, through which she has developed an unhealthy obsession with the suicide of another group member and fellow chronic-pain sufferer. Nina, played by another Oscar-nominee, Anna Kendrick, is the subject of numerous drug-induced hallucinations by Claire.

Her obsession leads Claire to stalk Nina’s widower – broodingly played by Sam Worthington, using his natural Australian accent for the part – and their young son, who develops an affection for Claire, despite – or, perhaps, because of – the dark cloud that hangs over her.

Once invited into their home, Claire helps herself to the dead woman’s stash of Percoset and Oxycontin.

Along with the pill-pilfering, pill-stashing and pill-popping, there are several failed attempts at suicide by Claire, along with a trip across the border to Tijuana to procure and smuggle more pills, resulting in her and Silvana getting caught by U.S. Customs and, ultimately, bailed out by Jason.

It’s a rather long and tedious adventure, with little rhyme or reason until about three-quarters into the movie, when the depth of Claire’s pain and loss is finally revealed.

Prior to the announcement of last week’s Academy Award nominations, Aniston was frequently mentioned as a dark-horse candidate for an Oscar nomination. Had she been nominated, it would have been well-deserved. Despite the unceasingly depressing terrain and slight incoherence of the script, Aniston gives a bravura performance, completely evincing a woman so thoroughly in the depths of her own mental and physical discomfort that she cannot see her way to any kind of rational, adult accountability.

Throughout the movie, except for one scene, Aniston is stripped of makeup, save for the prosthetic scars affixed to her face and body, and her hair is limp and unkempt. Between the perpetual wincing and pained movements of the character, Aniston imbues her with flashes of acerbic wit and deep pathos. It’s a far cry from the two-dimensional character she played on “Friends.”

Also delivering solid, though brief, turns are Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy.

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