One has to admire Jennifer Aniston for not being afraid to break out of her "sweetheart" Rachel Green mode rather often for someone of her level of fame. With 2002's The Good Girl, we caught a first glimpse of Aniston's gritty, disaffected acting capabilities. As Justine Last, she was a miserable married woman working discount retail. In Cake, she is a miserable separated woman with pill-popping and alcoholic tendencies.
Taking Justine Last one step further in her role as Claire Bennett by opting for no makeup to cover up her glaring scars, we're introduced to her vitriol right away as she makes everyone in her chronic pain support group feel extremely uncomfortable by commenting on the suicide of one of their fellow members, Nina Collins (Anna Kendrick). After being kicked out for he behavior, Claire develops something of a weird obsession with Nina's suicide, even visiting the site she decided to end it, at a high jumping point where the 105 and the 110 intersect. Daniel Barnz' (who has received many a criticism in the past for directing Beastly and Won't Back Down) tightly crafted narrative effortlessly details Claire's mental spiral.
As she gets closer with Nina's widower, Roy (Sam Worthington), she begins to feel semi-hopeful again, knowing that there is someone else who can fathom the pain she feels (we learn as the story unfolds that her son died in a car accident while she was driving). Part of the reason for her prescription drug addiction stems not only from the physical pain of her accident, which occurred about six months prior, but also the emotional damage she can't bear. The more she takes, the more she seems to hallucinate visions of and conversations with Nina.
Her seething nature manages to off put everyone around her, except those men she has casual sex with and her housekeeper, Silvana (Adriana Barraza). Rather than accept help, least of all from her husband, Jason (Chris Messina), Claire prefers to wallow in her misery--yet it's somehow darkly comical and engaging to watch via Aniston's interpretation of the character.
Although, once again, a Barnz film has received a lackluster response, Cake is arguably his best work to date, and Aniston's no frills performance is a large part of that.