Wednesday, May 20, 2009

THE CAKE EATERS: MOVE REVIEW


Cast: Kristen Stewart, Aaron Stanford, Bruce Dern, Jayce Bartok, Elizabeth Ashley
Director: Mary Stuart Masterson
Runtime: 86 min.
Rating: ***1/2
Genre: Drama, Romance

        As breezy and pleasant to the heart as a featherweight pineapple cake, The Cake Eaters has its title right on the money. Pardon the corny analogy. There’s young Kristen Stewart, a beautiful young actress whose talent I hope we gradually learn more about in the years to come, who is both the crust and the cherry topping of this sweet little film. She might have appeared to be all confused in Twilight, a movie I liked but not sure for what reasons, but here we see how gifted she might be. And together with a cast that exhibit some fine acting, and often some unnecessary acting, she makes more of a film than what would have seemed probable on the pages of the script.
        The Cake Eaters is a simple film, about simple people and their simple dreams, which might seem trivial to us but might mean the world to them. Ms. Masterson understands this, and rather than embarking upon some kind of a profound examination of these lives, which might have even been a trifle beyond her depths, she presents a compassionate and a cheerful film, and whose greatest triumph is that it doesn’t turn saccharine even for a moment. There’re moments of warmth here that feel so organic, and that ever so slightly touch us, often without us being aware of it. In times like these where drama at the movies is much a product of a bleak outlook, or even a cynical perspective, The Cake Eaters offers itself as some kind of a rarity, where the people do not spend their entire lives drooling over the cake on the other side of the glass, but instead walk into the store and have a bite of it whatever may be the cost, and probably never ever regret it.
        Now, there’s young Georgia (Ms. Stewart), whose one wish is to have sex before she dies of the terminal illness that has afflicted her since her birth. The disease is Friedreich’s ataxia, and for whatever it is it causes her to walk with a crooked bent on both her knees and speak with a slur that might make Sylvester Stallone seem the epitome of crystal clear oration. This is a marvelously understated performance mind you, and yet Ms. Stewart renders her fascination for the act palpable in her conversation with Beagle (Mr. Stanford) at a flea market. It is fascination mind you, not desperation. She wants to feel love, not much in its emotional form but rather in its physical form. Beagle works at the canteen in her high school, and at twenty is at least four years older to her. He has just lost his mother due to prolonged diabetes, whom he served for a whole of three years. As a son, and as a man. He takes care of his widower dad, Easy (Mr. Dern), and his brother has gone to New York chasing his wild goose of a dream of being some kind of a singer.
        Beagle, for all the courage which he so nonchalantly musters while dealing with his responsibilities, is shy of girls. He has never had a girl on him, and when Georgia calls him home under the pretext of helping with her homework, it is a wonderfully sweet moment. Georgia doesn’t want somebody to pity her, and Beagle seems genuinely interested in her. He comes home, gets into her room, and he does a bit of writing as she provides the dictation. She approaches, very near to him. For anyone else, no other word and no further invitation would have been necessary. But Beagle has had his whole of twenty years restraining him, and Georgia, a bright kid I believe, immediately realizes this. Beagle only musters a what. She says – You can kiss me if you want to. Those twenty years are too much for Beagle, and he still cannot shirk them away. He considers, but she doesn’t, and she kisses him. It is a sweet moment, a greatly satisfying one. One of those true and pure moments that spring out of the spontaneity and innocence of two lives that ought to be considered good.
        Yet, Ms. Masterson chooses to cut away to one of the film’s other threads, and only later return to Beagle and Georgia, who by now are on top of each other, the innocent moment long overshadowed by physical and adolescent lust. That is why I claim the examination of these lives would have been way too much for Ms. Masterson. I would have wanted to know how that moment of that first kiss would have panned out, and how the ensuing silence would have been felt by both Georgia and Beagle, and by us. It is difficult, very difficult, and I don’t hold that as a criticism but merely as a reflection of the limitations of the film and the filmmaker. Such a moment of silence makes great films, and this certainly is not by any stretch of the imaginations. What the film is more concerned with is just portraying these people, rather grazing gently through a short span of their lives, provide some eventful occasions, and conceal them under a rather thin layer of Indie restrain. The presence of that thin layer I speak of is courtesy the actors.
        As I mentioned there are other threads too, and most of them are triggered by the arrival of the elder brother Guy (Mr. Bartok) from New York. One involves the father, and one involves Guy and there’s a bit of intersection and overlap that feels largely organic. I would leave you to discover all of them, all romantic in their own ways, and I only say that not a moment of this film is uneasy, and almost everyone feels heartfelt. There’s joy and there’s warmth and that’s because these are nice folks. Not much interesting that you would want to spend your time with, but interesting enough to spend a film for. This is a film that was made two years ago, and hasn’t seen much of a theatrical run. Pity it is. In times as these where films are a rarity, forget good films, The Cake Eaters is somewhat of a blessing. More so for that final moment that the film shows us of Georgia and Beagle, in the hallways of the school, and how much is said with not much being spoken. She sought love in all its physical glory and stumbled upon something so special that we feel happy and good. For any film to be able to do that is something of an achievement, I guess.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I would love to be able to see some more examination of these lives, myself, as my daughter-in-law lost her mother from diabetes but instead of being able to spend the last 3-4 years of her life with her, because of her and her mother's situation she wound up being sent away from her mother for the 1st couple of years; would be interesting to examine the contrast between the 2 situations.