Darien News film critic Susan Granger reviews the new movie, "Cake:"

Two things to be learned from this half-baked, low-budget melodrama:

1) Jennifer Aniston has the best pop-culture publicist in Hollywood, and

2) There's such a shortage of top-tier roles for women that she's been catapulted onto the awards circuit.

Suffering chronic pain, cranky Claire Simmons (Aniston) is first seen as part of a support group, led by Annette (Felicity Huffman), who encourages everyone to express their feelings about the suicide of a fellow member named Nina (Anna Kendrick).

" 'Way to go, Nina," Claire caustically declares -- after describing Nina's plunge off a Los Angeles freeway onto the top of a flatbed truck headed for Mexico.

Acerbic, pill-popping Claire has anesthetized herself from the world since the automobile accident that scarred her, alienated her husband (Chris Messina) and killed their young son.

Wallowing in misery, perpetually scowling Claire is asked if she really wants to recover by her perceptive physical therapist (Mamie Gummer).

When Claire starts hallucinating about Nina, she invents a phony pretext to seek out Nina's grieving widower, Roy (Sam Worthington), who's been left with a young son, and a bizarre friendship slowly develops.

Deliberately un-glamorous with stringy, unwashed hair and scars on her face and body, Aniston epitomizes drab, dowdy and depressed. Yet she's also privileged, living in a hilltop home with a swimming pool and devotedly cared for by her long-suffering Mexican housekeeper, Silvana (Oscar-nominated Adriana Barraza from "Babel").

According to a New York Times interview, Aniston stopped exercising, gained weight and went without makeup for the role. Her research included interviewing her friend/stunt double Stacy Courtney, whose leg was mangled by a boat propeller, forcing her to endure several painful surgeries and a grueling regimen of physical therapy.

Formulaically written Patrick Tobin and subtly directed by Daniel Barnz, this is the first film from one-time Columbia Pictures chairman Mark Canton's indie label Cinelou Releasing. It features contrived cameos from William H. Macy and Lucy Punch.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Cake" is a flaky 5. Pass up this underwhelming confection.

- For more about movies and theater, check the website: www.susangranger.com.