The Oscars really are a bizarre ritual. Every year films, which the average member of the public would probably not spend their hard earned cash going to see, are selected to be in the running for the prestigious gong fest. On-the-other-hand productions which seem eminently more deserving are overlooked completely.
Take for instance the Warner Brothers drama Cake, directed by Daniel Barnz and starring the woefully neglected Jennifer Anniston. Here is a film which, on-the-face-of-it, has everything members of the Academy who vote for the awards usually go for, including gritty real-life drama (which doesn’t necessarily end happily for everyone) and characters with some form of disability (whether physical or mental) that pushes them to the edge of endurance.
Claire Bennett (Jennifer Anniston) is wracked with pain, both in body and mind, as she tries to come to terms with the death of her son in a car accident, and the devastating effects it has had on her and those close to her. Sinking further into drug dependency resulting from her efforts to cope with her agonies, she comes to the brink as she is forced to confront her demons with life changing results.
The worst thing about Cake doesn’t concern the actual film itself, but Jennifer Anniston and the fact that she was ignored both by the Oscars and every other major award of the season when it was released. I confess I have a bit of a crush on the most famous member of what was probably, by all accounts, television’s most successful comedy series ever. But biases aside it seems unfair that many critics and members of the public alike don’t give Ms Anniston more of a chance. Now admittedly much of the time she is her own worst enemy, constantly choosing comedy films like the questionable Horrible Bosses (2011) and its follow-up – which, a) she could do in her sleep, and as a result don’t push her as an actress, and b) are increasingly risqué and not worth the time or talent of anyone other than those just starting in the acting profession and who would hence take anything for the experience – that do neither her and nor her career any favours. When a good piece of work does come along – like her tour de force performance in the harsh The Good Girl (2002), her totally unexpected appearance in the edgy thriller Derailed (2005) or her moving turn in the heartwarming family drama Marley & Me (2008) – it’s quickly forgotten as she often follows it up with a starring role in some off-colour, adult toned comedy.
So what about Cake? Well here for once was a film where many people were actually praising Anniston’s performance. Watching it you can understand why. Her depiction of the distraught Claire – wracked both through physical pain caused by the accident which so cruelly robbed her of her young son and consequently her marriage as well as addiction to the drugs she takes to cope with the distress, and the mental pain caused again by the said disintegration of her family and personal life – is both moving and chilling. In it the viewer sees what it would be like to be thrown into a situation through no fault of your own, but from which there seems no escape. Though she receives standout support from the rest of the cast, including an award worthy performance by Mexican actress Adriana Barraza as Claire’s long-suffering house-keeper / home-help Silvana, it is Anniston’s central depiction of Claire as she snaps from jokey offhandedness to the verge of suicide, that steals the show and sticks in the memory long after the film ends. One can only think that the reason behind the Academy’s dismissal of Anniston’s performance, was because of the strength of this year’s lucky nominees. However comparing her role with those of some of the finalists, one can’t help but think that someone missed a trick.
One can only hope that, unlike the Academy, the general public manages to put their pre-conceived notions about everyone’s favourite friend aside and give her credit where credit’s due. Cake may just be the best thing Anniston has done to date, and it would be criminal for any true film aficionado to miss it.