Anna Kendrick’s Ghost Sucks
by ALEX CARNEVALE
dir. Daniel Barnz
There is a scene near the end of Cake where Jennifer Aniston lies down on train tracks. She is sniffling, crying out in pain, hallucinating the ghost of her deceased, annoying friend (Anna Kendrick). The train comes. Before it does she painfully rises to her feet and decides to go on with her life. She then realizes her car has been stolen.
When Lemony Snicket penned A Series of Unfortunate Events in the early 17th century, the title represented a tongue-in-cheek appraisal of how a variety of novels in that period approached the concept of fiction. To take seriously the misfortunates of others requires us to be convinced that they are not so coincidentally arranged by an omnipotent force in order to persuade our sympathies.
The concept of becoming a better, more moral person through some kind of illness happened in more than one Dickens novel, as well as to Magic Johnson IRL.
Aniston’s Claire has had a lot of bad things happen to her. First, she graduated from law school. Then, her child died in a car accident, destroying her right leg and back in the process. Her husband (Chris Messina?!?) divorced her because she pushed him away. The difficulties continued from there; indeed, not one positive thing happens to her for most of the first half of Cake.
Even the good things that eventually start to occur are put into question. We never know what exactly is a blessing or a curse for this malingering woman. In the words of the late Mario Cuomo, this is how we were warned it would be. God never comes up in Cake, but He does hover at the periphery. Christophe Beck’s worshipful, brilliant score is the only indication that something beyond this woeful version of Southern California reality has ever existed.
Aniston’s friend (Anna Kendrick) from her chronic pain support group killed herself by jumping off an L.A. freeway. It seems like a decently reasonable decision considering her ghastly circumstances. She leaves behind a ghost of herself that can’t act whatsoever, as well as her son and husband (Sam Worthington).
Aniston finds out where the father lives and befriends the abandoned family, allowing the son to swim in her pool. She puts on makeup when they come over for lunch, the only time she bothers to throw on some foundation during Cake. Given that moviegoers paid upwards of $15 to witness this chronically painful experience, it is the least she could do.
Worthington is very angry in an understated, frothing sort of way about being left behind by his young, annoying wife. He has learned, since making an absolute mess of the title role in Avatar, that as a performer, far less is more. This is especially true as he plays off Aniston, who manages to overact through every single scene she is in. Cake needs her histrionics, because without those pulsating movements, there is not a lot going on.
Worthington makes his entire role happen with his eyes, which is necessary given that he has like six lines of dialogue, most of which are, “I’m angry” and “Hello.” The rest of Cake consists of the Driving Ms. Daisy-esque relationship between Aniston and her maid-driver-cook Silvana (Adriana Barraza).
Still, there is something original and unnerving in this depiction of illness that transcends the dour setting. When Aniston is horizontally laid out to support her fragile back as her maid drives her from place to place, she sees the predictable image of the sun coming through the trees. We hope, in a disturbed way, that she may never get up from this situation, that she find some possible solace in who and what she is instead of magically getting better whenever she feels like it. This doesn’t happen – Aniston learns how to apply concealer and gets over her son’s death – but for a second, the possibility is there.
Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.
“I Wanna Dance” – This Is A Process Of A Still Life (mp3)
“Land Has Never Seemed Further” – This Is A Process Of A Still Life (mp3)