Cake (2014) tackles immensely raw themes of guilt, grief, and love in a dark yet somehow optimistic film, which emphasises the realistic toll of bereavement while attempting to unravel some of the complicated threads of mental health and its place in the day to day life of ordinary people.
Jennifer Aniston is outstanding in this underrated role which is extremely far removed from her humble rom-com typecasting. It’s rather unusual for a high-profile actress such as herself to star in a film not particularly well known or lighthearted, but she fills the duty perfectly, delivering a heart-wrenching performance which translates her character’s emotional and physical pain so viscerally that some scenes are almost impossible to watch without a tear in your eye.
Hallucinations, overdoses, emotional breakdowns and suicidal fantasies prove to the audience that Claire’s journey through grief isn’t an easy one to overcome
It’s easy to be immediately fascinated by and swept up in Claire’s journey, following the numerous mechanisms she adopts to process her guilt which fail her time and time again, and it becomes increasingly apparent that laborious support group meetings and painful physical therapy don’t provide her with an instant cure. Hallucinations, overdoses, emotional breakdowns and suicidal fantasies prove to the audience that Claire’s journey through grief isn’t an easy one to overcome, nor is it romanticised or presented as something time or friendship can immediately fix. This, however, is what makes her character arc so satisfying and inspiring to watch.
Over the course of the film, Claire tries desperately to learn how to adjust to her new life and find a genuine desire to get better. Her struggle comes from within, and to watch her progress in searching for a grip on reality and unlocking the power to forgive herself and others is incredibly moving, and an example of exactly what storytelling should be. This is portrayed wonderfully in the final few minutes, which manage to execute the message of the story perfectly in one of my favourite movie endings of all time.