Critic’s Notebook: TIFF 2014: Jennifer Aniston’s layered ‘Cake’

Sam Worthington and Jennifer Aniston onstage at the Toronto premiere of their new drama, "Cake."
(Jason Merritt / Getty Images)

I’ll give Jennifer Aniston’s “Cake” one thing — it definitely has layers.

The drama, which premiered at the Toronto International Film festival on Monday, had the best possible audience. The crowd was jammed with Jen fans and their intense adoration made the Elgin Theatre crackle with excitement and pop with cellphone flashes.

But, as I mentioned, director Daniel Barnz’ “Cake” has layers. Working from an insightful, acerbic script by Patrick Tobin, and a very good cast that includes Anna Kendrick, Sam Worthington and Adriana Barraza, the first layer is pain.

Aniston’s Claire is pieced together with steel pins that mean every move is torture. Pills and booze both help and hurt.


Claire has bad hair that she doesn’t wash often enough. (Given the intense interest in Aniston’s famous follicles, it seems important to mention.) Claire’s face also is marked by deep scars. We don’t know why.

All of it has put her in a very angry mood. One particular rant gets her kicked out of her chronic-pain support group for some rather indelicate remarks about a fellow sufferer’s suicide.

The actress has never look worse, or perhaps performed better, though I continue to have a real soft spot for “The Good Girl,” one of her most impressive post-“Friends” forays.

But ugly-ing Aniston up in “Cake” frees her from all of the preconceptions pop culture has been imposing for so many years. “Friends” ended a decade ago, so give it a rest, people.

But no one does. Social media and the tabloids serve her up in almost daily doses — Jen swimming, Jen smiling, Jen with friends, Jen with boyfriend, Jen without boyfriend, Jen with boyfriend again. ...

That pop-culture Jen has gotten pretty boring. And although comedy is her wheelhouse, her run on screen has never hit its stride, even when the films, such as “Horrible Bosses,” made money.

So for all the pain, grief, sadness and suicide that layers “Cake,” it is a serious treat to see the actress stretch herself. Hopefully this film won’t turn out to be a single slice.