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April 27, 2008
Review - " The Cake Eaters " (at IFF Boston) - By Roland Hansen
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The Cake Eaters movie poster
The Cake Eaters
Directed by: Mary Stuart Masterson
Written by: Jayce Bartok
Starring: Aaron Stanford, Kristen Stewart, Bruce Dern, Elizabeth Ashley & Jayce
Bartok

It’s been said that when you get one or maybe two outstanding performances in a
film it’s due mostly to the work of the actors involved. But when the entire cast
shines, all meshing together, you’re seeing the director’s hand in it. For it’s a very
difficult task to get an entire group of actors, with their different personalities,
acting styles and quirks, to blend seamlessly together. Director Mary Stuart
Masterson managed to coax noteworthy performances out of the entire ensemble
in her feature film directorial debut “The Cake Eaters”.
In an interview after the  
IFF Boston screening of “Cake Eaters” Ms. Masterson’s modesty would have you
believe she didn't do anything special, she didn't interfere and simply let the
actors act. I have to believe that what was captured on film has to be, at least in
part, due to her excellent skill as director.

In “The Cake Eaters”, the return of a prodigal son Guy (Jayce Bartok who also
wrote the screenplay) sets in motion an emotional chain of events for two
interconnected families in a small upstate New York town. Grieving after the
recent death of his mother, young Beagle (Westford, MA native Aaron Stanford)
sinks into sullen resentment, angered not just by his brother’s absence but also
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. Their father, Easy, is played by the legendary Bruce Dern (Coming Home, The
great Gatsby, The Astronaut Farmer). Beagle’s morose manner hides and artistic bent, noticed only by a terminally ill high
school student, Georgia, played by Kristen Stewart (Into the Wild, Speak, The Messengers). Guy returns and attempts to
repair the rifts with his family and friends caused by his sudden abandonment and three year absence while dealing with his
own demons and feelings of guilt. Easy must deal with the consequences of the discovery of his long standing affair.

Although the whole cast is excellent, special note must be given to the performances of Kristen Stewart, Aaron Stanford (X-
Men 2 & 3, The Hills Have Eyes) and Bruce Dern.  You expect a great performance from an actor with the experience and
talent of Dern and he certainly did not disappoint here. Dern is both wonderfully warm and funny. He has the best one-
liners in the film. Ever since I first saw Kristen Stewart in her Delta Award winning role in “Speak” I have been waiting for just
this quality of acting from her. Until now I have been generally disappointed. Her performances in “The Messengers”, “In
The Land of Women” & “Zathura” were all OK but nothing exceptional. She was better in “Into the Wild” & “Fierce People”
but not quite up to the excellence she gives us in “The Cake Eaters”. Kristen plays Georgia, a young girl with Friedreich’s
Ataxia, a degenerative neurological disorder. On a personal note, I have had both family and friends stricken with similar
neurological diseases and Kristen portrayal of Georgia is incredibly accurate and perfectly executed. Perhaps it is this
personal connection that has influenced my positive perception of Kristen’s performance. Aaron Stanford’s understated
intensity as the shy awkward Beagle, a young man struggling with adulthood, was nothing short of exceptional. As Beagle
and Georgia’s relationship progresses, 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 person to be with.
The climax of their relationship is very strong and well played.
The film opens with footage of old home movies and settles into a
gray, rainy, small town. Near the end of the movie, the sunrise scene
almost feels out of place in this melancholy setting. It is memorable
as being cheery and bright in their otherwise gray world, symbolizing
the happiness each of the main characters experienced in that
morning after each achieved something that was missing in their life
before.

The beauty of The Cake Eaters is that it unfolds very unassumingly,
taking its story and its progression as naturally as possible. With
subtle directing Masterson has crafted a gem of a film. It is definitely
one worth watching.