‘Tis the season of the Oscars, a season when movies as well as the individuals who participated and worked on them are celebrated for their work. Whether it is an actor, a director, a writer, or a composer, this is the time when these individuals are praised, or faulted, for their art. Naturally, this means heated debates on the selected nominees are going to transpire. Whether it was a snub or a surprise, everyone has an opinion. One of the more popular points of discussion has always been in the Best Actress category, and this year is no different. Marion Cotillard snatched what many are considering a “surprise” nomination in lieu of Jennifer Aniston’s role in Cake. After viewing the film, the real surprise is why there was even a conversation about Jennifer Aniston being “snubbed” by the Academy in the first place.
Whenever an actor or actress physically transforms, they automatically become Oscar bait. This year the buzz was how the beautiful Jennifer Aniston transformed herself into the character of Claire, a woman who is suffering the physical and emotional consequences of surviving a serious car accident that has left her scarred, and as such, she is plagued in both a physical and emotional sense. Scars mark her face and her body. She is in constant torment from chronic pain, leaving her unable to carry out simple activities, such as sitting upright while in a car or simply sleeping. Claire just looks utterly rough and beaten down. She does not care for her body whatsoever. It seems as if she hasn’t washed her hair in about a month, she doesn’t apply the medicinal cream for her scars to heal, and she constantly abuses her body with prescription drugs. She’s a hard character to sympathize with even when it’s clear that she has suffered a tremendous loss that has left her in the state we meet her in, and most of it is because of her caustic attitude.
From the first scene, we get a glimpse of her cutting character. Former group member and young mother, Nina (Anna Kendrick), has recently committed suicide when support group leader Annette (Felicity Huffman) sets up an exercise where all the patients speak to her as if she were Nina. They all get emotional, all distraught at the sudden loss. All but Claire, who instead opts to describe the sickening particulars of the suicide. There is humor in her bitterness, and Aniston is able to pull off that aspect of her character effortlessly, but even so, the character’s harshness becomes too much. She’s cold and unfeeling to those who look her way, and ironically, the people who are looking her way are the ones who care about her and want her to get better. She drives Annette, her physical therapist (Mamie Gummer) to give up on her, and her seemingly supportive husband (Chris Messina) also can’t stand to be around her. Most significantly, she continually tests the one person who hasn’t yet given up on her, the one who has remained a constant, the one who will do just about anything for her, including risking arrest by crossing the border to Mexico in order to get Claire prescription drugs—her housekeeper, Silvana (Adriana Barraza), who is one of the brighter parts of the film.
The rest of the movie is just that: Claire using the people in her life to get what she wants, and feeling her physical pain, but never letting the emotional pain seep through. It is only when Nina starts making appearances in Claire’s dreams and showing up as hallucinations that we see a break in Claire’s character. It leads her to Nina’s husband (Sam Worthington) and 5-year-old son, and ultimately to her own redemption. Aniston is good, but not necessarily great. At least not great enough to earn her a spot on the nomination list. The only physical transformation evident is her lack of makeup, which at one point she actually puts on in the movie, and just like that, her “transformation” melts away. Finally, it is later rather than sooner when the audience is finally treated to the cause of her pain and the meaning of Cake, which is sweet, but not sweet enough.