Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Cake Eaters: What Is A Cake Eater?

The Cake Eaters -Mary Stuart Masterson makes a small budget picture that succeeds on its own terms in her debut as a director. Two families intersect in small town upstate New York. Bruce Dern as Easy Kimbrough, owner of the town butcher shop, is the patriarch of one clan. At first Easy undervalues his son Beagle (Aaron Stanford), a school cafeteria worker who stayed at home and stuck by Mom's side as she died from cancer. Easy basks in the glow of Guy (Jayce Bartok, also the screenwriter), the returning prodigal, back after three years as a struggling musician in New York City, so far out of touch that he missed his mother's funeral. Elizabeth Ashley as Marg, grandmother and matriarch of the Kaminsky family, lives on the wealthier side of the tracks. Marg's daughter is a photographer, nervously micromanaging the life of her daughter and subject (photographically and otherwise), Georgia, a fifteen year old with Friedreich's Ataxia. Friedreich's Ataxia is a debilitating, incurable and progressive neural disorder and Georgia (Kristen Stewart) decides to live her life before her disease progresses too far. Georgia sets her sights on Beagle, who tumbles head over heels at breakneck speed, stumbling upon a long-standing affair between Easy and Marg on his route to romance with Georgia.

At times the film captures the pacing of the small town, the Kimbroughs bond, and feud, over seemingly uneventful breakfasts. A lazy flea market provides the backdrop for a critical, yet leisurely, meeting between a pair of couples. Georgia and Beagle really see each other for the first time, as Easy and Marg, ill-at-ease and apart since the recent death of Easy's wife, reunite with some small talk in public. At other times Masterson moves swiftly, the denouement to Guy's pursuit of his former girlfriend is told, completely, in a single glance.

The Cake Eaters has some distracting loose ends. Jesse Martin has a small part that adds little but unanswered questions to the story line. Georgia's relationship with her mother starts as fast and fascinating and dead ends with no real exploration. Melissa Leo gets a mystery credit as an actress when she should have been listed as a crew member - "leaf raker". These oddities suggest some very major editing was done after the shoot - probably to focus more narrowly on the story line growing out of the relationship between Georgia and Beagle at the expense of other elements from the original script. Good decision, Ms Masterson. Kristen Stewart is brilliant as Georgia in a role reminiscent of your own work in Benny & Joon. The cast (particularly Dern, Stanford and Ashley), score (including works by Duncan Sheik and Glen Hansard), and cinematography all had exactly what it takes to make this film work. If you don't see it in the theater it is worth renting the DVD. No details on release date or distribution plan available at this time.

If you google "cake eaters" you will see many references, but if you know that Jayce Bartok is originally from Pittsburgh and you notice that Elizabeth Ashley, in character as a tipsy Marg, roars mysteriously that her family is from Upper St. Clair, then you know cake eater can mean only one thing. In the Pittsburgh area, "cake eater" is a derisive term applied by blue collar kids to the privileged upper middle class, especially those from suburbs like Mt. Lebanon or Upper St. Clair. As Good As News is betting that Jayce Bartok is from Upper St. Clair, that the original script was set in Western Pennsylvania and that it included an even greater emphasis on the class difference between the Kimbrough and Kaminsky families. This theme was developed as a significant element in the Easy-Marg relationship, but was there even more on the cutting room floor?---------------------------------------------------------------------------
-ps - thank you mary-stuart-masterson.com for the referral and link. As Good As News posts weekly reviews of unreleased films, generally on Tuesday, but occasionally on Wednesday. Some weeks include a double feature. See the review of Look -"Robert Altman - Security Guard" also posted on Nov. 6 or go back for Canvas, Love In The Time of Cholera and other new releases.
-pss - the term "cake eaters" resurfaces in Charlie Wilson's War - spoken by Phillip Seymour Hoffman playing a CIA agent from Aliquippa. Very enjoyable film, funny and better than its reviews.

1 comment:

Claudia said...

You're welcome! Thank you also for linking to mary-stuart-masterson.com