Friday, January 23, 2015


Opening this week:

CakeJennifer Aniston plays Claire, who lives in both L.A. and hell. She’s scarred from the accident that took her little son’s life and left her horrifically injured. She lives alone, apparently in financial comfort, separated from her husband (Chris Messina) but served by her tirelessly loyal housekeeper Silvana (Adriana Barraza, wonderful in a potentially clichéd, Sancho Panza role).

Claire’s near-constant chronic pain is nothing, of course, compared to her bereavement. She’s retained a sardonic wit, which only serves to keep her distant from her own healing and from those who want to help her. The only help she wants is in securing refills for the bottles of Percocet she has stashed around the house.

The movie, directed by Daniel Barnz from a script by Patrick Tobin, detail’s Claire’s very gradual, very tentative steps toward reconnecting with life. In off-kilter dialogue and quietly abrupt transitions, we’re shown how small encounters—with a teenage runaway, with a possum—prod her back toward reengaging with the world. Eventually she forms a bond with the widower (Sam Worthington) of a young woman who committed suicide, and whose smirky ghost (Anna Kendrick) drops in now and then to taunt her. It’s from this strand that the movie draws its enigmatic title.

Cake has been much discussed lately for the snub its leading lady, who was also its Executive Producer, seems to have received from the Academy. A cynic might point out that it hits many of the points of shameless Oscar-bait for actresses: No glamour makeup, physical disability and disfigurement, booze, pills, numb sex with the pool guy. Aniston doesn’t do full frontal or an accent, but that’s about all that’s left out.

And maybe lust for gold statuary really was the motivation behind Cake. But it’s ridiculous if that perception is really why Aniston was shut out. I’ve always thought she was a very good actress within her range, and this role fits her casual, sensible, unhistrionic style perfectly. A more demonstrative actress could easily have ruined it, but Aniston is touching, entirely convincing, admirable. I don’t know that it’s the best performance of last year by an actress, but I would have put it in the top five that I saw.

The Boy Next DoorSpectacular in—and sometimes out of—a variety of maxi tube dresses, pencil skirts, lingerie and music-video-librarian specs, Jennifer Lopez looks like a million freakin’ bucks in this quickie. I hope she got paid at least that much, because her appearance is the only remotely worthwhile time-killer in the length of this preposterous melodrama directed by Rob Cohen, who has made far more entertaining work.

J-Lo is another Claire, a high school teacher separated from her cheating putz of a husband (John Corbett). Her teenage son is befriended by Noah (Ryan Guzman), the obsequious, six-packed hunk next door, and one weekend when the son’s on a fishing trip with dad she impulsively sleeps with him. She apparently hasn’t committed a felony by doing this—he says he’s nearly twenty, anyway—but even so she almost immediately realizes what a mistake it was. Noah is a twisted stalker, dangerous to her and her loved ones.

For a while The Boy Next Door feels like a Lifetime movie with a bigger star and slightly more graphic sex. But after a while I decided that this was unjust to Lifetime movies. I hadn’t gone in expecting a lost work by Bergman, but I thought it might be hot, kitschy laughs. Alas, once it gets past a few weary double-entendres about Claire’s home-made “cookies” and that sort of thing, the movie is too banal, slow and unpleasant to be much fun even as camp.

Well, OK, I admit that the final life-and-death grapple made me cackle out loud. But that shouldn’t be taken as any kind of recommendation. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a big-studio offering that was quite this embarrassingly inept and lifeless. Lopez is game and committed, in addition to looking sensational, and Ian Nelson has a certain callow charm as her son, but everybody is defeated by the flat direction and Barbara Curry’s implausible, disjointed script.

With dialogue this inane it probably isn’t fair to judge him on the basis of this performance, but Guzman comes across so fawningly that it reflects poorly on our heroine. Cut though this dude is, Claire seems dopey for falling for his sugary come-ons. It’s as if Mrs. Cleaver had slept with Eddie Haskell.


  1. Ug. The trailer for The Boy Next Door made me laugh out loud, then made me mad. At the very least, it seems like it will be good fodder for an episode of How Did This Get Made. And it spawned your entertaining review. Now, if you can bear it, please review The Longest Ride, which was another trailer that made me roll my eyes so far back into my head that I hurt myself.

  2. Mrs Cleaver and Eddie. Get to work on that script.

  3. Suzy--If the review entertained you, then I'm glad the movie was made. I'll keep an eye out for The Longest Ride, not that causing you to roll your eyes back would necessarily always be a bad thing. Steve--Love the idea of an Eddie/Mrs. Cleaver TV movie. A friend of mine suggests the working title "I Think You're Being a Little Hard on the Beaver."