Cake

Each year we talk of Oscar snubs as if they’re not subjective, as if meritoriousness by Academy standards is some kind of measurable certainty. When will we ever learn? In the meantime we can verify that Jennifer Aniston has not been rewarded with a best-actress nomination for playing diligently against the twinkle-eyed wry warmth that is her comfort zone and indeed her true appeal. In Cake, she’s stiff, suffering, and suicidal, your mostly unwelcoming hostess for an extended pity party of personal tragedy. Rather a literal zombie, for reasons the movie takes too much time but not enough care to explain, Aniston’s signature lurching move here is to push people away — a husband (Chris Messina), a physical therapist (Mamie Gummer), an entire chronic-pain support group, even the ghost of a dead friend (Anna Kendrick), and for that matter the friend’s widower (Sam Worthington) too. At least the tolerant housekeeper (Adriana Barraza) stays around long enough to drive her to Tijuana for some extra painkillers. But are these people even characters, or mere dramatic purposes? It seems that writer Patrick Tobin and director Daniel Barnz wanted to create an opportunity for Aniston, but something doesn’t bode well about a protagonist so often seen lying prone in cranked-down passenger seats. And, like the piercing ache that awaits her every exertion, triteness looms. We may safely presume the movie’s title is a bitter and self-conscious reminder about having one’s cake and eating it too. And we may declare that the most upsetting sort of Oscar snub is the one that reeks of bait not taken. But that’s all subjective, of course.