“What are we, elephants?”
Mary Stewart Masterson’s film The Cake Eaters is a very well done piece of cinema. A slice of rural life in a sleepy town, we are privy to a period of turmoil and discovery for two families living there. The Kimbrough’s have recently lost their matriarch and a second family is dealing with the hardships of raising a child with Friedriech’s Ataxia. Both groups are thrust together with some chance meetings, helping each other get through the tough times and remember the good in living life. There is a lot of heart on display and subtlety in its portrayal. We see just enough of every story thread to understand the emotions going on inside the heads of all the characters—emotions that are very complicated and co-existing with their exact opposites: can love ever really exist separate from hate?
The main catalyst for much of what occurs stems from the return of Guy Kimbrough, back from a three-year, self-imposed exile of rock n’ roll life in NYC. It is an interesting welcome; one mixed with happiness at seeing him and disappointment in the fact that he abandoned them all when they needed him the most. Played by the screenwriter, Jayce Bartok, it is a role that bares similarities to the only other film I have seen him in, SubUrbia. There he was a returning rockstar seeing how different he had become when re-connecting with old friends, here he is that same guy, only now with the realization that his dream is over. This is a one-way ticket back home to start over and hope to find what it was he lost in those years away. Needing to make amends with the father and brother he left, the girl he walked out on, and the mother he missed saying goodbye to, Bartok does well showing the sadness and regret along with the hope of rebirth.
His introduction back into the life of his brother has a very real effect on the younger Beagle. Played wonderfully by Aaron Stanford, (in a huge departure from his turn as Pyro in the X-Men films), he is reminded of how he had to put his life on hold to care for his parents, one dying and one unable to stay and watch. After meeting the granddaughter of his father’s old friend/flame, he finds that he must start to live for himself. Although she is younger and afflicted with a debilitating muscular disease, the two find a bond and common ground with each other. They see someone like themselves, wanting to find a relationship and person to be with. The climax of their relationship is very strong and well played, allowing the audience to discover whether their connection was strictly of convenience or much more. Kristen Stewart is fantastic as the girl Georgia. The way she must control her body in order for the disease to be real is effective, but also her smile at the hand God dealt her is perfect. This young woman knows her fate and tries to overcome any feelings of sadness by just living.
The beauty of The Cake Eaters is that it unfolds very unassumingly, taking its story and its progression as naturally as possible. There are no twists and turns or bombastic moments to hit the audience over the head with. Instead we are allowed a glimpse into the world of this town, where flea markets, butcher shops, and outskirt motels are commonplace and well used. Each moment is completely authentic, from the acting to the relationships uncovered as the film goes on. Even some little moments shine above the rest like when Easy Kimbrough, (the always great Bruce Dern), is telling his girlfriend that he can’t continue their relationship if it remains a secret. He is so heartfelt and she as well trying to keep him for herself in the way she had grown accustomed, but once the phone rings and she finds that her granddaughter has gone off with his son, she turns on him and screams that Beagle isn’t good enough for Georgia. Emotion is a powerful thing and the blunt truth of that scene just rings completely true.
With subtle directing and the fearless use of quiet moments to let the actors breathe and do their thing, Masterson has crafted a gem of a film. I kept thinking of another film with similar tonal qualities and settings in Tully while watching. This is strange because I don’t remember much about that film except for really enjoying it, yet somehow I just felt they had a kinship with each other. Definitely an independent feature, I hope it will be able to eventually break the festival circuit and get a proper release either theatrically or on dvd. It is definitely one worth watching for those interested in small character studies and really effective drama.
The Cake Eaters 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½