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Why Jennifer Aniston Didn’t Take the “Cake”

January 25, 2015

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You couldn’t have scripted it any better if it were a movie: An actress who hasn’t been taken seriously in years deglamorizes herself for a role as a woman going through a serious health crisis and wins over critics, audiences, and the Academy, earning an Oscar nomination in the process. That was the story Jennifer Aniston seems to have laid out for herself by playing a woman suffering from chronic pain (and chronic dishevelment) in Cake. Too bad Reese Witherspoon beat her to the punch by going make-up free and stringy-haired as a hiker overcoming grief, drug abuse and promiscuity in Wild.

That film earned 90% positive reviews, a very respectable $34 million so far, and an Academy Award nomination for Witherspoon, who hadn’t had a hit since 2005’s Walk the Line and had seriously tarnished her reputation in the decade since with a high-profile DUI incident involving her husband. Meanwhile, Cake garnered a mediocre 47% “fresh” rating from Rotten Tomatoes, took in just over $1 million in its first weekend of release (barely edging out Wild, in a similar number of theaters, in its eighth) and failing to snag Aniston an Oscar nod, although she was nominated along with Witherspoon for the Golden Globe and the SAG Award.

Why did Cake fall flat? It could be that Aniston forgot a key ingredient: give a great performance. Beneath the physical surface—the prosthetic scars, the drab clothes, the aforementioned limp coif—she doesn’t seem to go deep into the character. It’s mostly a one-note performance: she winces and snarls cranky remarks. I’ve seen more convincing work in Excedrin commercials.

The only real moment of transformation occurs when her character, smitten with the widower (Sam Worthington, another spectacularly uninteresting performer) of a fellow support-group member (Anna Kendrick, mostly wasted) who committed suicide, gets her hair done. Perhaps it’s not a surprise that this is the extent of Aniston’s acting, considering her greatest career achievement to date was inspiring a hairstyle craze with “The Rachel.”

Okay, that’s not fair. She deserved the Emmy she earned for Friends. The episode in which Rachel gives birth was a comic tour de force reminiscent of Lucille Ball. But Lucy never bored us by trying to get all serious and play some dead-serious character in search of professional accolades. She knew her strengths and her limitations as an actress. That’s why we’ll always love Lucy. And why I hated Cake.

All right, hate might be too strong. Adrianna Barraza (Babel) contributes an award-worthy turn as Aniston’s long-suffering caretaker, and the real-life husband and wife team of Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy excel in too-small roles as a support-group leader and the perpetrator of the accident that caused Aniston so much pain. Suffice it to say Cake left a sour taste in my mouth. But probably not as sour as the one Aniston must’ve felt on the morning of the Oscar nominations.

 

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One Comment
  1. I still have no idea if she was robbed of an Oscar nomination or if she was never deserving of one in the first place. Personally I would assume the latter because I’m not a fan in any sense of the word, but in regards to what’s been said it’s like everybody is watching two versions of the one film. One is Oscar gold and the other is awful.

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