*This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.*
Based on the book of the same name written by Audrey Shulman, Sitting in Bars with Cake tells the story of Jane (Yara Shahidi), a law school prospect who spends her time away from her studies baking cakes. After accidentally bringing her best friend Corinne’s (Odessa A’Zion) cake to a bar, the two devise a plan to frequently bring her latest recipes to different bars around Los Angeles in the hopes of meeting some guys.
The “cake-barring” trip goes well until, one day, Corinne suffers from a seizure and is rushed to the hospital. The doctors find a treatable brain tumor, but her condition worsens as the film progresses, leading Jane to find a different meaning to her cake-barring sessions and life.
From its description, Sitting in Bars with Cake seems like a harrowing watch, and there are a few unflinching moments where, if you’ve ever had to deal with a friend or family member getting sick, that will be difficult to observe. When Corinne’s cancer worsens, and Jane takes her to a hospital, she begins to experience bouts of amnesia, not remembering what day of the week it is and forgetting if she had missed Jane’s birthday, repeating the same questions repeatedly. The scene is well-crafted, with A’Zion and Shahidi consistently giving impassioned performances throughout the movie, particularly in this gut-wrenching exchange.
Yara Shahidi is the Best Part of Sitting in Bars with Cake
Shahidi herself is the best part of the movie, juggling many emotional arcs throughout its two-hour runtime. Supporting performances from Ron Livingston and Bette Midler are also excellent. Livingston gets the best laughs out of the movie as Corinne’s father, who has an obsessive desire to fix every object he sees with a slight fault. But it’s primarily Shahidi’s film, playing Jane with as much complexity as possible.
However, her arc isn’t easy, dealing with the pressures from her parents (played here by Navid Negahban and Adina Porter) to apply to Law School while tending to her ill best friend. Playing a character like this might seem challenging, but Shahidi does it so easily that you immediately care about her as the movie begins.
That said, most of the movie is as predictable as it comes. Even if it is indeed based on a true story (which Shulman wrote the screenplay for, only changing the names of the protagonists) and a book, the arcs themselves feel so placated on the screen that you immediately know how the movie will end within minutes as it begins. I won’t spoil a thing for those who seemingly care about watching this, but let’s say that it follows every cancer-related movie trope to the letter.
Sitting in Bars with Cake Fails Due to a Lethargic Structure and Clichéd Plot
There’s never a moment in which director Trish Sie and writer Shulman go beyond clichés and at least try to convey a message on Jane and Corinne’s harrowing journey. Instead, the movie jumbles through many plotlines without much thought: the two don’t learn much while cake-barring; there’s the romantic subplot involving Jane and Owen (Shah) that doesn’t add anything to the movie; and Midler’s Benita seemingly acting as a motherly figure for the two characters, but doesn’t do much past being iconic (because Middler has always been so). There must be something for the audience to cling to desperately, but the movie never does so within its TWO-HOUR runtime!
I’m a proponent of the “no movie is ever too long/too short. Pacing matters.” adage. However, it brings me no joy to say that Sitting in Bars with Cake’s pacing kills everything. The movie is so sluggishly paced to the extreme that it takes so much time to establish itself as a drama while meandering in its second half only for its last third to [very] slowly lead to the thing we’re all seeing a mile away. The movie has no surprises, good or bad, and the character development is minimal, even with a long runtime.
Because of this, Sitting in Bars with Cake fails at delivering a gut-wrenching and thoughtful drama, even with actors giving their all. They’re not able to overcome its haphazardly clichéd material and lethargic pace. If anything, the movie is a great device to put anyone to sleep within seconds. That’s pretty much what was happening to me, even if I desperately wanted the film to turn around and succeed in its latter half. It never did.
Sitting in Bars with Cake is now streaming on Prime Video. What are your thoughts on the movie? Did you read the book it was based on? Let us know in the comments below, and follow us on social media!