Film Review: Cake


Daniel Barnz’s Cake blends drama with black comedy. The film hinges on a strong performance by lead Jennifer Aniston, which she pulls off with aplomb.

Claire becomes fascinated by the suicide of one of the women in her chronic pain support group. As she delves deeper into the circumstances of the suicide, Claire needs to confront her own tragedy…

Cake is a drama with flecks of dark humour. Screenwriter Patrick Tobin focuses on protagonist Claire, a misanthropic character who is buried in physical and emotional pain. Rather than dealing with her problems stoically, Claire lashes out at those around her. The character is well drawn; viewers will be able to sympathise with her pain and understand her attitude.

The narrative of Cake is on the light side. The film functions more as a character study than anything else. Other characters appear for Claire to rally against, or to open up part of the tragedy that Claire is trying to avoid. The backstory of what has happened to Claire is not revealed until late on in the film, despite hints being dropped along the way. This works well to retain the audience’s attention; Claire has a lot to be angry and frustrated about, but the full extent is not made clear until much later.

The second half of Cake is more sentimental than the first, with Claire reluctantly facing up to issues. Director Daniel Barnz’s film never becomes schmaltzy, but there is a change in tone. The device of the hallucinations functions to provide black humour and for Claire to elucidate her feelings. The device is partially successful, although sometimes it seems as if the need for Claire to vocalise her feelings is overplayed.

Jennifer Aniston offers one of the strongest performances of her career. She is completely believable as the acerbic Claire. Good support is provided by Adriana Barraza, whilst Felicity Huffman and Lucy Punch are decent in minor roles.

Cake entertains throughout, even if it is not wholly satisfying. The film is certainly worth a watch for Aniston’s performance.

Cake is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from 29th June 2015.

Film Review: Beastly

A modern teen update of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, Beastly is uninspired but inoffensive. It is the sort of movie that is watched on television when nothing else is on, rather than a film to be seen (and payed for) on the big screen.

Teenager Kyle is a good-looking and popular high school student. He rates appearance highly, and plays a prank on Kendra, an unpopular girl at his high school. Unbeknownst to Kyle, Kendra is a witch who curses him in revenge. Kyle is made as ugly on the outside as he is on the inside, and has one year to find love and break the curse…

At eighty-six minutes in length, Beastly is thankfully short. The film is not terrible, but it is instantly forgettable. Beastly does nothing particularly interesting with the fairy tale that it is based on. There is no sense of innovation in adapting the story in a modern setting. The film is a standard romance, with little to distinguish itself from the plethora of other contemporary-set fairy tale films.

Beastly is fairly simplistic in its depictions of the handful of characters. The film offers a polarised world, where all the rich people are inherently bad, while the poor characters are honest and good. Housekeeper Zola is unappreciated, yet still has the patience to counsel Kyle. Kyle’s school friends, meanwhile, show little concern for the disappearance of a close friend. There is very little character development, even in the case of the two protagonists. Lindy is too good to be true, while Kyle predictably learns the error of his ways in good time. Perhaps if writer and director Daniel Barnz has spent more time giving his characters depth, the film would have been more compelling.

Make-up in the film is well executed, although Kyle does not look particularly “beastly” after the curse. Unlike earlier renditions of the story, Kyle keeps the same form; his curse is disfigurement rather than a full transformation. As such, he is not as isolated or monstrous as he could have been. The soundtrack is decent, and in keeping with the style of the film.

Alex Pettyfer is adequate as Kyle; the writing stifles any opportunity for a memorable performance. Vanessa Hudgens is less convincing as Lindy. Hudgens struggles to portray a range of emotions as believably as she should. Neil Patrick Harris’ Will is responsible for most of Beastly‘s minimal laughs, and as such should have been given a more integral role.

A film that is unlikely to be an outstanding credit to any of the cast or crew, Beastly struggles to escape its mediocre status. Not a painful watch, but not a hugely enjoyable one either.