It’s amazing what a difference a hit movie can make. Your less worthy films are drummed out of obscurity. Not only that, but your billing even on these other films is suddenly pushed to the top of the class. Almost overnight, everything you did before gets pushed toward the public’s eye, for good or bad. Kristen Stewart has enjoyed a deserved boost to her career with the success of the teen vampire film, Twilight. Now the independent film The Cake Eaters is being released in time to coincide with Twilight’s own DVD release. This is a film that most certainly would have found its way into release on its own, but I doubt that the timing is at all coincidental. On the film Stewart’s billing is actually somewhere near the bottom of the front credits. On the box art she has amazingly leapfrogged the others and takes the top spot. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t turn in a great performance here, and it doesn’t mean that The Cake Eaters is a horrible film. But it’s not a great film, and so any help it can get from one of its stars’ rising popularity isn’t going to hurt any.
It’s more or less the story of two families in small town America. Easy (Dern) leads one clan. He’s recently lost his wife and lives with his younger son, Beagle (Stanford). His older son, Guy (Bartok) has just returned from New York, where he was pursuing a music career. There is obviously some tension between the two brothers. In another family, we have Georgia (Stewart) who is suffering from a degenerative nervous disorder. It limits her mobility and slurs her speech. It also will eventually cause her heart to give out, so that she’s aware she is on borrowed time. Her mother, Violet (Balsam) is an art photographer and specializes in partially nude photographs of Georgia. Her live in, Judd (Martin) is the more protective of Georgia. When Georgia and Beagle meet at a swap meet or rummage sale, they are attracted to each other. Georgia decides she wants to have sex so that she can experience it before she dies. Both teens are rather awkward personalities, and they begin to develop a bond, counter to the social norms around them. The relationship reminds me a lot of the one in Natalie Wood’s Splendor In The Grass. The film unravels as secrets and relationships are revealed that bring all of the characters to a point of self examination.
The film has potential, but it never really comes into full bloom. It’s directed by actress turned first time director Mary Stuart Masterson. The direction is often awkward. It appears that Masterson never has a lot of confidence in herself and fails to commit to the emotionally charged scenes. The performers are giving us riveting stuff, but the framing and editing deplete the scenes from any of the passion. She does a great job of presenting us with a snapshot of small town USA, but never gives us the compelling story she is trying so hard to deliver. The cast, for their part, give as good as they can. Stewart shows why she’s such an up and coming talent. It’s a difficult role, and she rarely falls out of step. She teams up well with Aaron Stanford, and the two of them give as good as Masterson will allow. Bruce Dern shows us that the old codger still has some acting chops in him. Jayce Bartok, who also wrote the script, is the weak link in the cast, offering very little but a moody figure best left in the background.
The Cake Eaters is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The film begins and ends in full frame which threw me for a second. The overall picture quality is pretty good. It’s all quite subdued and muted. So, colors are not really a standout feature of this film. Detail, however, is actually pretty good. It’s a sharp picture with better than average black levels. The film sports a solid average 7.5 mbps, which is outstanding today for a standard definition release.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track very laid back. Even the score emphasizes the sleepy quiet little town atmosphere. It’s all about the dialog, anyway, and that’s what comes through very clearly.
For some reason these people really want you to work for every minute of the extras. In each of the three features, the option is divided into three parts, often under 2 minutes in length. There’s never a play all option, so it’s a lot of thumbing for very little content.
Deleted Scenes: There are three for a total of about 4 minutes. You must access each separately.
Cast Interviews: In case you thought I was being unfair about the tie-in to Twilight of this release, this should confirm it. There are very short clips from Bruce Dern, Jesse L. Martin, and Aaron Stanford. Each answer the question: What did you think of Kristen Stewart? I’d love to ask Bruce Dern what it means to have the “seen the elephant look”.
Behind The Scenes: Wow, is this a waste of time. You get three pieces, each under two minutes. The last one is just 38 seconds. Two show short scenes being filmed. The first just shows Masterson talking to Stewart. Yawn!
This one’s a bit slow and takes a long time finally getting nowhere. I was entertained enough by a couple of the performances, but it’s not enough to give up any real money for this film. I suspect Twilight fans will want to check out Kristen Stewart. That’s cool, but go the rental route. As for me? “I think I’ll go shredded wheat from now on.”