Judge Jonathan Weiss thinks someone left this cake out in the rain.
Have your life and eat it too.
Writing a great romantic comedy is no easy feat. After all, everyone watching already knows that the two most unlikely people in the story are going to wind up together in the end. Make it too schmaltzy, and most people stay away in droves. Make it too familiar, and most would rather rent one they already know and love. Finding the right chemistry between actors can be tough and finding the right words to put into their mouths can be even tougher. When you take all that into account you can see why only a select few titles are universally recognized as the crème del a crème. You could also argue that that's probably why there are more celluloid atrocities produced in the name of love than any other genre.
Cake is a flick that most studio bosses must have thought would hit all the right buttons. Free-spirited woman with serious commitment issues? Check. Slightly damaged executive type with romantic leanings? Check. Unbelievably hot, model quality second guy steps in to complicate matters? Check. Provide an ironic setting—say, a wedding magazine—where all of these relationships unfold? Check and double check. What could go wrong, the studio bosses must have been thinking, what could go wrong?
Facts of the Case
After suffering a sudden heart attack, a publishing magnate's travel-writing, care-free, relationship-impaired daughter tries to help him out by taking on the editorial duties of the least successful magazine in his arsenal: Wedding Bells—a topic and an institution she absolutely abhors.
There's a neat little nugget of an idea at the centre of Cake and this is what it is: weddings cover up big relationship issues with trivial minutia. Bang—now that's an insight. Here you are, a woman about to spend the rest of your life (or so you hope) with someone you may have only known for a couple of months and instead of worrying about how well you fit together as life partners you spend all your time worrying about floral arrangements, table settings, music selection, menu options, bridesmaid dresses, and the million other things it takes to throw the most expensive dinner party you're ever going to have. Now that is the basis for what could have been a charming little movie.
Instead what we get is a movie that tries to do too much with far too little. How much is too much? Try these on for size.
• There's the free spirited young woman story where our heroine, played by Heather Graham, has to buckle down and learn about responsibility.
• There's the relationship between father and daughter story where dad is a workaholic who can barely carry on a meaningful relationship with his own daughter.
• There's the fish out of water story where feisty carefree daughter has to gain the respect and trust of her stodgy staff.
• There's the magazine story where daughter is trying to save her father's beloved magazine empire from a hostile take-over.
• There's the wacky friend's story where our heroine is the only one left out of her tight knit group of college girlfriends that's hesitant about committing to a long-tern relationship.
• There's the hunky photographer story in which our heroine fools around with and possibly falls for, well, a hunky photographer (played by Taye Diggs).
• There's the straight laced, but emotionally damaged executive story that sees our heroine struggle between her natural inclination towards hunky photographer types and her attraction towards her dad's trustworthy second in command (played by David Sutcliff).
• And finally there's the 'weddings cover up the bigger issues of what matters in a relationship' story in which our heroine stands triumphant after reinventing a stodgy magazine in her image.
Holy bonbonniere! Is this a romantic comedy or a Russian epic? Actually, it's neither. If it was supposed to be a comedy there should probably be stuff in there that makes you laugh. There isn't. If it was supposed to be romantic in nature there should probably be stuff in there that makes you feel a little gooey inside—nauseous doesn't count. And if it was supposed to be a Russian epic, where are the funky fur hats, huh? Where?
But before you even get to that point you're going to have to sit through the most wooden ten minutes of acting you have ever seen. You could swear Heather Graham's eyes are moving from left to right as if she's reading her lines from cue cards. Let's get this straight once and for all: it might have worked for Marlon Brando in Superman: The Movie but it does not work for Heather Graham in Cake. Thankfully as the movie progresses, the acting gets more natural—but by then the convoluted story takes centre stage. The only other actor who deserves special mention is Sandra Oh as the best friend. She's the best thing in the movie, but we see too little of her for it to make much of a difference.
Needless to say, every single plot point wraps itself up to a satisfactory conclusion—conclusion being the most satisfactory part of Cake.
There are several extras added for your enjoyment, though enjoyment may be too strong a word. Even the "Bloopers and Outtakes" are flat. They're more like alternate takes, of which so many were shown of certain scenes that it felt like you were sitting in the editing suite. This is fun? As far as video quality goes, there's evidence of pixilation throughout the film. The sound is in Dolby Stereo, which is unusual for a movie produced in 2005. Whether they deserve kudos for not overdoing it with a 5.1 surround track when it's not needed, or a severe finger wagging for not even trying is up for debate, but overall, the sound is fine.
If you're a sucker for romantic comedies you're really going to want to like this movie. But try as you might, you probably won't.
Guiltier than a bigamist at a Ms. Magazine luncheon.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
• "Behind The Scenes of Cake" Featurette
Review content copyright © 2006 Jonathan Weiss; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.