Let Them Watch "Cake"
The other night, I finally got around to renting the movie Cake that stars Jennifer Aniston as a woman dealing with severe chronic pain following a devastating accident, and how she has to come to terms with whether to push on with her life. It was terrific, with a screenplay by Patrick Tobin that's really smart and trusting of the audience, having very few false moves, and that even brings touches of humor, albeit sardonic. The direction by Daniel Barnz is crisp and insightful. But at the center of it all, Jennifer Aniston was absolutely great.
Every year, the Oscars always have their oversights, the most notable of which are referred to as "snubs." And above that, on occasion, are the "inexplicable." I know that most omissions are not at all oversights or snubs, since there are only five spots available, and if there are five nominees deserving of being included, others simply have to be left out. Having said that, I find Aniston not getting a nomination to be inexplicable.
She got a SAG nomination as Best Actress, and one for the Critics Choice and the Golden Globes. And it's not like she's a little-known actress who slipped under the wire. And the Oscars tend to love actors who play characters with a disability. But above all, this is a tour de force performance, utterly unlike what she's deeply known and loved for, and it's not that she's the lead, but she's the core of the film, in pretty much every scene, with only a few exceptions.
Sometimes, a person can be passed by because of their “Big Star” status, but I don’t think that's the case here, because Hollywood loves that sort of thing, and even has a history of giving Oscars to for it, like Sandra Bullock and Julia Roberts. Both wonderful performances, but hardly as gripping as what Aniston did. (Or more famously, John Wayne – though I’m less-convinced than most that that was the “travesty” some think, giving him the Oscar just because he was John Wayne. It’s a great, uncharacteristic character performance that holds up.) So, who knows why not? Maybe it was simply a case of being such a small movie that not enough people saw it.
Was it a case of other simply being better? I looked at the list of those who were nominated, and while I didn't see all the performances, I saw enough to know that this was leaps and bounds ahead of some. (Again, this isn't just my opinion, she got nominations from SAG, Critics Choice and Golden Globes.)
Well, so be it. Whatever the reasons, it's moot. The bottomline is that the film is extremely good, and the performance wonderful.
The script is full of subtleties, with hints of what the main character, Claire, was like before the accident. For me, the most telling scene is her thoughtful, almost dismissive nonchalance at learning someone she trusted has stolen her purse, not even wanting to go to the police.
By the way, I would have loved the film and her performance under any condition, but it was especially impactful to me because my mother lived with chronic pain for about 60 years. (She had polio and then post-polio.) So when Aniston was always spending so much time lying down, and the difficulty with which she’d get up, and the ever-so-slight tightening of her face when just moving her body too quickly, and the winces when the car she was in would go over a bump, and more, all of that was so impeccable and rang so true. (I learned not to jam on the breaks when driving with my mother and coming to a stop sign. Instead, you anticipated the sign and almost glided to an almost-imperceptible stop.) the Aniston nailed it brilliantly.
(The difference with the character of "Claire" is that my mother did-not-complain her entire life. It was her life, and she accepted it and moved on. Even when the post-polio came maybe 40 years later after polio had long-since weakened her back muscles -- post-polio is something that affected the neck muscles so that one's head isn't strong enough to raise up and instead droops, only returning to a natural position when you sit. When walking, she either go with her head down, or tilt it to the side, or push her head up and hold it there. And no complaints at at all, none, and none after a stroke, or macular degeneration, or anything. It was sort of stunning to watch her my entire life and see the remarkable example she set. The closest I ever heard her complain about a lifetime of discomfort was at one point I said to her, “Mom, after having polio, and post-polio, and a stroke, and macular degeneration…do you ever think of looking up to the sky and saying, ‘Okay, God, I get it. You can move on and find someone else now?” There was a long silence, and then, in a voice that was almost like a quiet shrug, she said offhandedly, “Yeah.” That was the closest ever to a complaint. She was this small, maybe about 5'2" fragile lady of about 90 pounds, who was the strongest person I knew.)
All the more reason to admire Aniston’s performance. She really got it right. So, as much as I loved the performance on its own merits, I couldn't not bring my awareness of how spot on she handled the role and didn't miss a beat the whole way through.
Know that the movie isn't "a downer." It has it's sadness, and it's about dealing with a difficulty. But as I said, there are touches of humor, but ultimately it's about, as Aniston put it in interview, "choosing life."
Here's a brief clip. Notice the subtlety of movement in body and facial expression that Aniston gives. even to the point of lightly touching the wall for balance -- very true to life -- and the challenge of simply taking a heavy object from a bag. The scene comes from later in the movie, as she's started to move forward, and she goes back to visit the therapist (played by Felicity Huffman) who had earlier kicked "Claire" out of her pain support group for being too negative. (That should give you some idea of the character, and the sardonic humor...) It's her second visit to the therapist after that dismissal -- the first being a very passive-aggressive scene when "Claire" needed some private information and threateningly strong-arms the therapist warmly to get it,
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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