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IN SHORT: A sweet little nothing of an art house friendly film. [Not Rated. 86 minutes]
As in what you can't have and eat, too. Don't ask us how to apply the saying to this film. We can only make the connection with one set of characters. The plurality of the title suggests there's more so we guess stupidity runs in our genetic code. It's a sweet little nothing for the art house. That it has actors of "my" generation in the adult parts saves it, at least for me. We'll be kind in review, but it's strictly for the art house crowd -- were it not for the "names" it's the kind of film a well financed grad student would have turned out. I know that may sound like a diss, but it isn't intended to. (I did my grad work at NYU. I only diss the morons who are full of themselves, which isn't indicated here in any way shape or form)
We see more films than most people -- it comes with the job. Of the first time directors, we see a common pattern. There are first timers with deep pockets who deliver big, flashy productions that usually aren't more than that. The other sort focus on characters and story and sometimes we are tremendously surprised and entranced. Most of the time we think, "good start," and walk out of a screening room thinking at least the newbie will have something to show as he/she raises money for the next, bigger project. Mary Stuart Masterson's The Cake Eaters is very much in that second category.
Then again, the focus of the film's story has little to do with the more adult characters we've been watching for a very long time. Said focus is on a twenty year old boy named Beagle Kimbrough (Aaron Stanford) who hasn't shown much interest in the grown up life. His dad, "Easy" (Bruce Dern) is a butcher. His brother Guy (screenwriter Jayce Bartok) is just back from three years in New York, where he pursued a music career and so missed the notice of and a funeral for his beloved mom, just before this story kicks into gear. Guy also figures he can pick up with former girlfriend Stephanie Kaminsky (Miriam Shor), only to discover that she has moved on (with Law & Order stud Jesse L. Martin).
The Kimbrough clan interacts with the family Kaminsky in other ways -- Beagle is asked to tutor fifteen year old Georgia (Kristen Stewart), who is suffering from a neuromuscular disorder whose name is unpronounceable to just about anyone. Said disorder will, bit by bit, strip Georgia of the ability to control her muscles and, as we meet her, the disease is already affecting her ability to walk.
While Georgia is losing some functions, certain other desires that come with teenager-hood are full blown blasting in the youngster. It is she who hits on Beagle; seeking tutoring that he wasn't expecting to deliver. Then again, Beagle is never going to be the leader of the pack, if you know what I mean....
The second punch to Beagle's emotional stability is the revelation that his dad and Georgia's grandmother Marg (Elizabeth Ashley) have been involved with each other for a very long time. An affair predating his mom's death and one which is no secret to his older brother. Watching the revelation unfurl, and affect the young 'uns is the core of the story and, somewhere in that core is a much better story than what appears on the big screen.
The Cake Eaters is the kind of film that you'd normally see at an end of term, grad school showing. The name brands in supporting and directing roles will catch the eye of old fogeys like Cranky -- Dern's Silent Running was the first film we ever paid to see with our own hard earned money -- Paying first run prices for the film will not make anyone happy.
On the other hand, Kristen Stewart's performance is absolutely riveting. Even if, you know nothing about neuromuscular disorders. Yours Cranky, whose uncle died of a very similar illness, does. Stewart is dead on.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Cake Eaters, he would have paid . . .
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