Aniston’s “Cake” a cascade of painfully familiar set pieces

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To paraphrase the old National Lampoon gag about pain, “Cake” hurts.

But what hurt Jennifer Aniston’s chances at an Oscar nomination could be the paint by numbers nature of the piece. When we meet her she is physically and emotionally crippled and eating Percodan like Pez. She is self-medicating after a tragic traffic accident that left her in constant pain.

cakeIt hurts to even sit up straight in a car, and so she travels lying down on the reclined passenger seat and can tell different routes by bumps in the road.

But her real problem is the emotional trauma she must overcome in order to turn the page on her life.

It’s a poignant theme that here moves through a cascade of predictable set pieces – group therapy, lying to doctors, overdose – on its way to a kites, wind chimes and birthday cake resolution.

She has encounters with the ex (Chris Messina) who still loves her and the husband (Sam Worthington) of a friend (Anna Kendrick) who committed suicide as well as conversations with the friend’s ghost.

The only constant in her life is the Mexican housekeeper, played by Adrianna Barraza, who knows of her loss, drives her everywhere and is her caretaker and caregiver. Mamie Gummer, Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy fill out the indie film’s dance card.

A gritty Anniston gamely plays against type, complete with scars on her face and a waxy complexion, wincing in pain and squinting in confusion. No wonder she had visions of an Oscar nod.

It’s the sort of role that earned Charlize Theron the award for Monster.

It’s not all for naught, just painfully familiar.

Two and one half stars **1/2

With Jennifer Aniston, Adrian Barraza, Anna Kendrick, Sam Worthington, Mamie Gummer, Felicity Huffman, William H. Macy, Chris Messina, Lucy Punch. Produced by Ben Barnz, Mark Canton, Kristin Hahn, Courtney Solomon. Written by Patrick Tobin. Directed by Daniel Barnz. Rated R for language, substance abuse and sex. Approximate running time 102 minutes.

Showing at the Mayfair Theater Friday.

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