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Kristen Stewart, the multi-talented star of “The Cake Eaters,” packs quite a punch with her compelling undertones and honest portrayal of life’s ultimate challenge. The role for Stewart is a drastic change from her work on “Twilight” (also released on DVD this week) as her character battles with a degenerative muscle disease called Friedreich’s ataxia.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke said, “Friedreich’s ataxia is an inherited disease that causes progressive damage to the nervous system resulting in symptoms ranging from gait disturbance and speech problems to heart disease.” Although the disease is rare, it affects “about 1 in every 50,000 people in the United States.” There is no cure and those that suffer with Friedreich’s are usually confined to a wheelchair within 10-20 years after being diagnosed. Carriers eventually die from heart disease and are not expected to live past early adulthood.
In today’s societ, many teenage girls are preoccupied with clothes, makeup, and body image. Georgia (Stewart) is faced with a degenerative muscle disease that will eventually take her life. To make things worse, her mother (played by the Oscar-nominated Melissa Leo) uses Georgia’s illness to further her art and create awareness for Friedreich’s ataxia. But don’t go giving her any sympathy, because all Georgia wants is sex. She is determined to lose her virginity before the disease limits her physical mobility.
Beagle (played by Aaron Stanford) catches Georgia’s eye with his unassuming nature and innocence. He is a small town guy whose mother recently died after a long battle with cancer. Beagle’s home life consists with conversations with his father about the pros and cons of shredded wheat. Both sit at opposite ends of screen, with much more than the table stretching out between them.
With Beagle at home as caretaker, Guy (played by Jayce Bartok, author of the screenplay), could chase after his dream of becoming a musician in New York. Upon discovering his mother’s tragic death, Guy returns home but is too late to the funeral. Beagle is irritated by his brother’s absence and angered by the hearty welcome the prodigal son receives.
Various relationships transform between father and sons, mother and daughter and an oddball boy in love with a spirited girl. Whether laughing or crying, these characters maintain genuine truthfulness. The subject of death is present in every scene. Paired with the reality of no escape outlined in the emotion-infused dialogue, “The Cake Eaters” is an eye-opening and emotional ride. Bartok’s inspiration for this script was extremely personal for the writer/actor. In an interview with MoviesOnline, he said, “My mom was confined in a wheel chair for the last couple years of her life and when I was looking to write a script, I wanted to focus on a character that was sort of incapacitated physically but emotionally had this extremely rich life and love and desire to want to live.”
The film is directed by veteran actress Mary Stuart (actress from “Fried Green Tomatoes”), who brilliantly shot the film and keyed in on the vulnerability of each character. Stuart described the appeal of the project to MoviesOnline and said, “I felt like what [Bartok] had at its heart was this really unique and very specific sense of place and the characters, especially Beagle and Georgia, were so well drawn and so unique that it had a beating heart at the center of it.”
“The Cake Eaters” honors mature themes and leading actors shine in each role. Georgia is aware of her physical limitations but chooses to be remain undefeated.
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