Movie Review: Sacrine Hits the Big Screen

Don't be fooled, this isn't Twilight. In fact, this couldn't be further from it. Mary Stuart Masterson's directorial debut, The Cake Eaters, a small budget family drama, managed to snag Kristen Stewart three years ago, long before Twilight and all the chaos that followed. Due to poor guidance, lack of funds and other misfortunes, The Cake Eaters, long after its filming, is releasing only to a very small number of art houses and special screenings, than straight to DVD. Fortunately for Masterson though, Stewart's new wide range appeal has helped cull an audience she would not have otherwise had. Unfortunately, The Cake Eaters left a bad taste in my mouth (bad pun, sorry). Masterson is better known to most as Joon in Benny and Joon, Watts in Some Kind of Wonderful, and perhaps most famously as Idgie in Fried Green Tomatoes. At the Q&A after the screening, she spoke modestly about these incredibly memorable roles and her turn in the Director's seat, and showed that onscreen and off, she's both beautiful and humble. But as much as I enjoyed meeting Masterson, and hearing all she had to say about making The Cake Eaters, the film did exactly what she and I hoped it wouldn't... it turned into a movie of the week. Without knowing quite where to place the blame, Cake Eaters has that "tv movie" feel to it, and no matter how hard I tried all I could hear was Jim Gaffigan's voice in my head saying "Lifetime, television for women." .

Masterson struggles to give all of the many story lines equal footing, but clearly ends up favoring certain characters over others. The film is set in a small Pennsylvanian town (however it was filmed somewhere in upstate NY), and here we meet two families. There are the women in one, and the men in the other, a convenient backdrop for romantic scenarios. There is Easy (Bruce Dern), Beagle (Aaron Stanford), and Guy (Jayce Bartok), 3 bachelors united by the loss of their matriarch, and struggling without her presence. Dern's Easy is one of the only brilliant things in the film, shining comically and sweetly as the the elderly father/butcher harboring a secret. As hard as Dern tries to hold up the entire film with his credible acting talent, on the flip side of the coin we have Stanford and Bartok, who
seemingly have a very difficult time figuring out how they're supposed to play their parts. Bartok, a man who's inability to make believable facial expressions is astounding, enters the film as a returning rock n' rolla who's been gone for three years, and left not only his family behind, but also a fiance, Stephanie (played by Miriam Shor). Their story line seems to pretty much get cut except for a few scenes, but I'm not complaining. Anymore screen time for the two of them, and I might have left the theater. Then there's Stanford, who gained a lot of notice back in the day for his role as precocious Oscar Grubman in Tadpole, and more recently tried to go mainstream as Pryo in the X-Men franchise. As quiet Beagle, Stanford has a few moments of aww shucks sweetness that actually resonate, and even a few comedic gold stars, but primarily he wasn't given very clear direction on what kind of person Beagle is, or what his back story includes. He has personality quirks that just don't fit, and feel forced. It probably also doesn't help that his 20 something character ends up getting sexually involved with a 15 year old dying girl. Georgia, played by Stewart, is ill with a rare mental/muscular disease that I cannot remember the name of because they kept saying it too fast. This disease causes her to speak with slurred speech and makes her unable to walk without assistance, a difficult role for Stewart to play convincingly. I have to give her credit for taking on such a physically demanding part, and in this way she did a phenomenal job, unfortunately at its core, she's still playing the same part of the girl batting her eyelashes and looking forlorn. It was a earnest, but still unsuccessful attempt by her to break out into a new kind of role. When Beagle and Georgia meet for the first time, it's clear that she is looking for looking for someone willing to do the deed with her, and his loneliness mixed with attraction makes him a prime target. They have some sweet moments, but on the whole their relationship doesn't make sense, and is uncomfortable to watch. Even though they look the same age, the fact that she's 15 and he's 22 is disturbing no matter how you slice it.

Then there's Georgia's cigarette smoking, bourbon guzzling, free spirit grandmother, played by Elizabeth Ashley who is a the female counterpart to Dern's Easy. Together they do their best to bring the film to a higher level, but are brought down hard by a poor screenplay, poor direction, and immature actors. Ashley takes a character that could have easily stayed one dimensional throughout the whole of the film and brings her to life. I truly wish we could have seen these characters in another film with a better everything, but alas, they were stuck in The Cake Eaters. Too many scenes feel misguided, too many characters feel unfinished, and just too many things are wrong with this movie. However, all that being said, I cannot say enough good things about Masterson herself.

Many of the Q&A's I attend can feel hackneyed, but Masterson's was refreshing and truly enjoyable. One of my favorite moments was when she spoke about her hesitance to get involved with John Hughes, because she wanted to be an "artist," and how their pairing led to one of her most frequently played films of all time, Some Kind of Wonderful. An audience member asked if was really a recluse, and she laughed saying "probably, I haven't seen him since the film." She was funny, natural and endearing. Her insights into the making of the film explained a lot and even helped to change some of my views, but unfortunately she can't be there to explain away the movie's problems to every person that sees it. Like I said earlier, all the blame cannot be placed entirely on her shoulders. I think that she invested a lot of time into a script that wasn't the best to begin with, so it's possible with better starting material that she could prove to be a stronger director, but I'm not sure. She is very sweet, laid back and unassuming as a person, qualities which may or may not make for the best head of a movie set. But in ant event, the whole experience made me respect her all the more, despite my feelings about the film. She tried something, and made some bad decisions, but that doesn't mean she won't learn from them. Masterson said Dern told her "don't be afraid of sweet," a nice sentiment coming from the old curmudgeon (her words, not mine), but the film ODed on Splenda, so I think she may have taken that advice a little too literally.

Short and Sweet

Better luck next time. The Cake Eaters was just too sweet for me.

Fav Quotes

"You've always been my dream girl."


Karen said...

For some reason I really want to see this movie. Probably because of Kristen Stewart and her Twilightness.

Alex said...

Nice review. I feel exactly the same way about Masterson- she's the only reason I saw this movie. That's really great you got to see her do a Q&A! I hope that though this film was mediocre, she continues to try her hand at directing.