‘Sitting in Bars with Cake’ peaks at semi-sweet

Friendship’s sugar and tragedy’s spice don’t quite whip up a film where everything’s nice.

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the works being covered here wouldn’t exist.

(Editor’s note: A previous version of this review included the full name of the presumptive real-life inspiration for the film; upon a subsequent request to maintain their privacy, we have removed that sentence.)

Ask “Is it cake?” to Jane (Yara Shahidi, also executive producing) and Corrine (Odessa A’zion) and they will answer with a resounding “Yes.” Then they’ll watch how the space and the crowd within light up. It’s jaw-dropping how much game for hangouts they have; doubly so when the form of their game is confectionery.

Is that all the reason one needs to name pastry chef Megan Potthoff the brightest star of Sitting in Bars with Cake? Yes. The Amazon Studios film, helmed by Pitch Perfect 3’s director Trish Sie, is an adaptation of Audrey Shulman’s book, itself based on her actual weeks of “cakebarring,” or being at bars with baked goods to get boys in Los Angeles, makes it the best possible mold for Potthoff to show off her skills. For a while, at least.

Aside from the sweet that can have kitchen appliances displaying the names of cakes or can get a hipster-type with an oud-like instrument to admire Jane out loud, Sitting in Bars with Cake is also about the bitter. The headaches that Corrine has after fun nights around town, turns out, are her body’s way of telling her she has cancer.

Sitting in Bars with Cake (Prime Video)
Sitting in Bars with Cake (Prime Video)

Call it flavors or cakes (or more straightforwardly, tones or slices), there are two of those in Sitting in Bars with Cake’s design. C’est la vie, and in a way c’est du gâteau (sour cream in chocolate cake, pinch of salt to boost the sweetness, things like that), but considering how they always stand separate, it isn’t the most ideal state for the narrative. The lack of cohesion can turn into an extra layer of frustration for viewers who know where the story is going. Even if overlooked, the way Sie establishes these two friends, who are also roommates and coworkers, and the witty invention of “cakebarring,” is paltry at best — most troubling when the story’s most special part is its origins.

Sie’s direction also leaves much to be desired, mainly because it also adheres to the discrete nature of Shulman’s script. Subversion is, as a result, the way, and it needn’t be as radical as the word implies: creative touches to provide consistency, to embed flow throughout will do. What nearly two hours of directorial “this bite, that bite” will do is further highlight the storytelling flaws that are already there. It might also add another: The story is so prepared to bite into the more serious second half that it makes the livelier first artificial. But perhaps it’s in this readiness that Sitting in Bars with Cake is the most punctual and careful for the task of piping out key tearjerkers.

Sitting in Bars with Cake (Prime Video)
Sitting in Bars with Cake (Prime Video)

One could credit all of that work, however, on the performances alone, especially A’zion’s. Maybe only Azion’s, considering how Shulman’s writing is so Corrine-intensive that it either undercuts or forgets Jane’s and in turn Shahidi’s for significant stretches. There’s selflessness here, and also lopsidedness. Nevertheless, the Hellraiser actress is a powerhouse throughout. Like the best fondant in existence, Corrine never lets her rock star vibe falter, always a note or two above her condition to be both Jane’s best shoulder and a genuine sponge for the city’s electrifyingly inclusive sprinkles.

It’s also through the acting that Sitting in Bars with Cake manifests an unexpected take-home item. Unlike many of today’s new-slash-quirky ideas, “cakebarring” can be used to create a community — actual, not virtual. It may begin as a goodbye-single-life concept, but it has room to become a goodbye-loneliness one. But as heartwarming as this is, this alone does not have the power to keep the whole show afloat. Ever ask just one maraschino cherry to carry an entire cake? What would Mary Berry say?

Sitting in Bars with Cake is now on Prime Video.

Sitting in Bars with Cake Trailer:


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