The Cake Eaters
'Cake' is full of family issues and affairs
The local butcher, Easy (Bruce Dern), and his docile-faced son Beagle (Aaron Stanford), seem to be getting on just fine in "The Cake Eaters," a slow-paced drama set in a time-warped village in upstate New York. All's well, that is, until the older son, Guy (Jayce Bartok, who also wrote the screenplay), comes home for the first time in three years, a month late for his mother's funeral. The three wander the house in her absence, trying to act as men should: They talk to their beers instead of each other and overdose on cholesterol-drenched breakfasts. They pursue women with varying degrees of success.
The butcher's long-time paramour, Marg (Elizabeth Ashley), brings zany grit to the often-plodding plot; Ashley and Dern share sparks. But the most sustained flickers of life come from Marg's granddaughter, Georgia, played by Kristen Stewart two years before her star burst with "Twilight," no doubt the impetus for the film's current limited release to the big screen. ("The Cake Eaters" was shot in 2006 and made the round of festivals starting in 2007.)
A romance between Beagle and Georgia further entwines the two families, and the tangle of all the relationships is the heart of the story. Georgia seeks asylum from the terminal neurological disease she suffers - and from her hyper-protective mother (Talia Balsam) - by deciding it's time to have sex. She discusses this frankly with her bourbon-swilling grandmother as they motor through town in a classic white convertible complete with fuzzy dice. Yet the quirky tenderness of these moments only magnifies the awkwardness of her mother's relentless demand to photograph Georgia half-clothed to apply for a Guggenheim. There are only so many story threads an ensemble cast can hold.
In her first film as a feature director, Mary Stuart Masterson brings a sympathetic eye to the lives of her characters. As for Stewart, it's clear her beginnings have come to an end. There's a reason she's booked for eternity.