Sitting in Bars With Cake (2023) Movie Review: When a movie begins with such a simple premise, expectations wander as to the trivialization of the entire movie. The conceit of shy, introverted Jane being best friends with extroverted Corrine is already a friendship cliche. Jane is quiet, eager, clean, and organized. Corrine is feisty, outgoing, messy, and fiercely loyal to her friend. Jane works in the mail room of the music company, for which Corrine works as a low-level agent in hiring artists.

Jane is doing this work while preparing herself for going into law school, a career already chosen for her by her ultra-successful parents. But Jane’s true talent lies in baking. One day, out of a mistaken method of celebrating her birthday and bringing the specially made cake to the bar to celebrate Corrine’s birthday, Jane manages to talk and open up with strangers of the male variety. This finally inculcates the idea of 50 cakes over a year and then bar hopping every weekend, hoping that Jane will finally be confident enough to date someone.

At this point, the question arises: While this is an interesting conceit for a comedy, the amount of planning and dedication taken by two friends to effectively get a date for one’s best friend feels like overkill. At least conventionally, the logical conclusion for this plot would be the start of a business and a romantic comedy.

Here is where the true story and the young adult adaptation of the book based on a true story actually come into the picture. Because the curveball in the plot comes out of nowhere, one might argue that this is inadvertently spoiling the plot. Still, again, without this curveball, the emotional attributes and the ultimate perspective of what this movie is wouldn’t come into focus.

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But just for the sake of safety, SPOILERS AHEAD.

The diagnosis of Corrine having cancer suddenly changes “cake barring” and, honestly, the entire movie. Suddenly, the movie becomes less about the cake being baked and the dating life of Jane and more about the friendship between Jane and Corrine and how intimate their friendship could be. Director Trish Sie knows how to underline the urgency of these emotional threads without devolving into full melodrama with regard to conflict.

Corrine’s urgency to continue “cake barring” and her insistence on Jane opening up and re-establishing a connection with the cute guy in the mail room are distractions from being completely bedridden, nauseated or having to undergo a round of chemo. For Jane, the “cake barring” feels selfish because it is fun at the cost of the health of her best friend, the one she has a risk of losing.

Throughout the entirety of the movie, what makes Trish Sie’s story so unexpectedly moving is the relationship between the central characters and the consistency maintained between the two personalities even as they go through a character arc of acceptance of the situation and understanding the perspective of being and getting sick.

Sitting in Bars With Cake (2023) Movie Review
Yara Shahidi in Sitting in Bars with Cake (2023)

None of these moments would have worked without the chemistry between the two leads. Yara Shahidi and Odessa A’zion, as Jane and Corrine, respectively, are two of the most charismatic young leads this reviewer has seen all year. I would want to see them in more projects as leading characters.

They bring such dimensionality and heft to their characters that it elevates the cliches the story is supposed to play itself out as. It is also helped by the supporting cast, especially Ron Livingston and Martha Kelly as Fred and Ruth, Corrine’s parents. Livingston, the automobile guy continuously trying to fix things, and Kelly, the deadpan mom, the logical one of the two, are endearingly supportive. Livingston, in particular, knows exactly when to appropriately switch gears between dry comedy and resonant emotion.

The other interesting additions to the film are the little inserts in the production design and the placement of the names of the different cakes, be it on the back of jackets, in the lights of the prom stage, or on the back of a candy bar. Those are unique visual quirks, which this movie might have helped with having more of. But Sie and Audrey Shulman’s script also manages to ensure equal attention is given to the “cake barring” aspect, even though the cancer storyline inevitably takes over and becomes the plot.

Because the triviality of such an endeavor becomes the enduring point of two friends whose every moment becomes an enriching experience, this too becomes the final bonding moment for the two friends and a path for self-discovery for one of them as a result of the loss of another.

It comes at the cost of almost introducing conflicts for the sake of it through conversations. However, the sincerity and conviction of the moments more than make up for these flaws. There is an added sense of realism in the lackadaisical approach to how the comedy enters every moment. It is light, feathery, and, of the moment, almost like the best sitcoms, except the heightened nature only comes from the twist in the premise itself. Everything else is just frosting on the cake.

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Sitting in Bars With Cake (2023) Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Letterboxd
The Cast of Sitting in Bars With Cake (2023) Movie: Yara Shahidi, Odessa A’zion, Bette Midler
Sitting in Bars With Cake (2023) Movie Genre: Romance/Comedy, Runtime: 2h 0m
Where to watch Sitting in Bars with Cake

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