Jennifer Aniston does unflattering misery pretty well. Her underappreciated turn in Miguel Arteta's The Good Girl was a strong sign that the Friends star could play against type, inhabiting the role of a conflicted discount-store clerk who has an affair with a young colleague. Unfortunately, Aniston hasn't taken many acting chances since that film premiered in 2002.
With Cake, Daniel Barnz's new film about a broken woman suffering from chronic pain after an accident claimed the life of her only son, Aniston once again goes full melancholy, sulking and scowling with ease. Her Claire Bennett is a classic sarcastic depressive, an angry woman who justifies her bad behavior with excuses and self-pitying tirades.
Often shepherded by her housekeeper, Silvana (Adriana Barraza), Claire stumbles through support groups and therapy with a bad attitude and rage to spare, temperaments brought on by an affinity for pain killers. But this is no John Cassavetes movie; Barnz never plunges Claire down the rabbit hole of addiction. Instead, Cake is content to quietly address its lead character's transgressions with patience.
This doesn't make for an altogether resonant film, but it's hard not to admire the reserved dedication that both Aniston and Barraza put into their characters' relationship. Sam Worthington also gives a surprisingly strong turn as the husband of a friend of Claire's (Anna Kendrick) who's recently committed suicide. Their chemistry never feels forced and always exists within the consequenceladen minefield of real life.
Cake, which screens at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 20, at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park, doesn't always capitalize on these strong performances. It often gets bogged down in the minutia of plot, growing stagnant when it should be engrossing. In the end, the film's merely a showcase for Aniston's capability as an actor in the most inauspicious of settings. Imagine if she ever gets a halfway decent script.
American Sniper : Clint Eastwood's unflinching and critical biopic of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), who became the deadliest sniper during four tours in Iraq.
Blackhat : When a cryptic hacker threatens to send the world into chaos, the U.S. government releases a young computer genius to catch him. It's directed by ace craftsman Michael Mann ( Heat , Miami Vice ).
Gangs of Wasseypur: Part 1 : The first segment of Anurag Kashyap's 320-minute Indian crime saga charts the origins of a blood feud between two factions battling for control of a coal-rich township. Screens at AMC Fashion Valley Cinemas.
Little Accidents : Multiple stories intertwine after a fatal mining accident sets off a chain reaction of misfortune and heartbreak. It stars Elizabeth Banks and Josh Lucas. Screens through Jan. 22 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Paddington : Traveling from Peru, a young bear arrives in London hoping to find a home. There he meets the Brown family, who offer him a temporary safe haven.
The Wedding Ringer : Who best to impress your new in-laws than a loud, vivacious Kevin Hart? Josh Gad's shy young groom-to-be agrees.
Zero Motivation : Female soldiers stationed at a remote desert base hilariously search for meaning amid gender discrimination and absurd contradictions. Screens through Jan. 22 at the Ken Cinema. See our review on Page 24.
One time only
The Hangover : Four friends have a night to misremember in Las Vegas, waking up the next morning in a world of hurt and trouble. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 14, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Days of Heaven : There might not be a more beautiful film than Terrence Malick's sweeping melodrama about a love triangle in turn-of-the-century America. Screens at 2:30, 4:45, 7 and 9:15 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 15, at the Ken Cinema.
Human Capitol : A tragic bike accident links two powerful Italian families vying for political dominance. Screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 15, at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.
Wetlands : This edgy, coming-of-age story follows a young woman who finds herself in the hospital after an unfortunate shaving accident. There she meets a male nurse who helps her hatch a scheme to get her divorced parents back together. Screens at 10:45 p.m. Friday, Jan. 16, and at 10 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 17, at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Patterns of Evidence: Exodus : This documentary investigates whether or not the story of Moses and the Exodus even happened in the first place. Screens at 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 19, at various theaters. Check fathomevents.com for details.
I Origins : A molecular biologist and his laboratory partner stumble upon a discovery that may fundamentally change modern society forever. It stars Michael Pitt and Brit Marling. Screens at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 20, at the Point Loma / Hervey Branch Library.
Cake : Jennifer Aniston stars as a depressed woman suffering from chronic pain who decides to investigate the suicide of a woman from her support group. Screens at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 20, at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park. See our review on Page 24.
Ilo, Ilo : A young boy develops a friendship with his maid, making his mother jealous. Screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 21, at the Scripps Ranch Library.
Blue Velvet : Enter the depraved mind of director David Lynch in this horrifying look at suburban deceit that features a truly disturbing performance by Dennis Hopper. Screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 21, at Hillcrest Cinemas.
The Princess Bride : A grandfather (Peter Falk) reads his grandson (Fred Savage) a classic story of giants, princesses and true love. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 21, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Inherent Vice : Paul Thomas Anderson adapts Thomas Pynchon's detective yarn about a real-estate tycoon who disappears, inciting a number of pot-fueled stories in early-1970s Southern California.
Selma : Martin Luther King (David Oyelowo) attempts to create voter reform in Selma, Alabama, a hotbed of racism and disenfranchisement.
Taken 3 : Liam Neeson reprises his role as the badass who keeps losing family members to kidnappings. Maybe third time's a charm?
The Search for General Tso : Using America's most popular takeout meal—General Tso's Chicken—as a starting point, this documentary traces the origins of Chinese American cuisine. Ends Jan. 15 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Born to be Wild : Narrated by Morgan Freeman, this documentary examines the amazing bond between humans and animals, including elephants and orangutans. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Viva La Liberta : Toni Servillo stars as identical twin brothers who decide to switch identities in this funny look at modern-day Italian politics. Screens at the Ken Cinema.
Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death : Dark spirits are awakened in the Eel Marsh House when children evacuated from World War II London arrive looking for shelter.
Big Eyes : Tim Burton's film tells the story of Margaret Keane (Amy Adams), a 1960s housewife who allows her conman of a husband to take credit for her exceptionally popular paintings.
Into the Woods : Beware the Wolf, Sondheim. Beware the Wolf.
The Imitation Game : Benedict Cumberbatch stars as real-life code breaker Alan Turing, who led a squad of British mathematicians in breaking the Enigma code during World War II.
Unbroken : Angelina Jolie's sophomore effort examines the life of Olympic athlete and World War II prisoner of war Louis Zamperini (Jack O'Connell) who overcame extreme odds to survive a Japanese internment camp.