Prime Video is something of a mixed bag when it comes to many of their offerings. Look no further than Red, White & Royal Blue, or Shotgun Wedding to spot the wide disparity in titles for the streamer. The lack of consistency often gives me pause when trying to decide what movies are worthy of my time. For this very reason, Sitting in Bars with Cake, based on the book by Audrey Shulman who also writes the screenplay, was cause for hesitation. Would this fall more into the former category, or the latter? This dramedy surprised me at every turn, and ended up being one of the best tearjerkers of the year. Snuggle up with a plate of cake and prepare to devour one of the year’s finest surprises.
Any film that begins with a series of decorated cakes promising itself to be inspired by true events—“I swear on my measuring cups”—instantly has my heart. We follow two besties trying to build professional and personal lives amidst the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles, California. Corrine (Odessa A’zion, Hellraiser, The Inhabitant), outrageously outgoing, works at the Agency to the Stars under impressive and knowledgable Benita (Bette Midler, Hocus Pocus, Beaches). Corrine’s closest friend since forever, Jane (Yara Shahidi, The Sun is Also a Star, Peter Pan & Wendy), is also her roommate, and constantly bakes delicious sweets at home. Her virtual cooking lessons over Zoom are really starting to pay off. Corrine helps Jane secure a temp gig at the agency as the “mail fairy,” while Jane attends school to be a hotshot lawyer and please her demanding parents.
For Corrine’s birthday, Jane bakes her a cake, and brings it along to the bar where they are celebrating. Everyone immediately takes notice, thinking Jane could be a celebrity chef. With the first time being a raging success, Corrine suggests they make this a regular thing. Jane can bake the cakes, testing out different flavors and combinations to find out what is actually working, and as a plus it seems like a great way to pick up guys on the side. They come up with a chart for each week. They will visit a different bar, and Jane will concoct a new cake to “test out.” As people cheer on Jane’s cakes, the possibility of becoming a professional baker rather than a stuffy lawyer slowly takes shape.
Director Trish Sie presents each cake in a stylish manner, reinforcing recent years of food porn that leaves the viewer drooling. Cake titles such as Butter Toffee, BLT Cake, Spiced Rum Cake, Sage Ricotta, and Chinese Prune Cake all have their time in the spotlight. Sie highlights not just the looks of the cake, but their very names as they appear carved into cutting boards, or on the backs of shirts. In the middle of all this “cakebarring,” Corrine gets promoted to a junior agent, and Jane becomes intimately entangled with a cute cupcake-baker who takes notice of her cake skills.
And then, the unthinkable happens. Just when life seems to be going their way, a shocking brain cancer diagnosis rattles the duo to their core. Corrine and Jane are forced to adjust to this new normal, while Corrine insists that they continue their cakebarring journey. After all, the endgame of fifty weeks of cake is another birthday for Corrine. Sitting in Bars with Cake handles a cancer journey with every bit of grace and levity one would expect, and then takes it a step further with its attention to detail throughout the process. None of this would work as well without A’zion and Shahidi, who play Corrine and Jane, respectively, with naturalism. Holding a believable friendship at its core is essential, and makes the moments when it is time to reach for the tissues feel earned.
Sitting in Bars with Cake mixes together homemade realism and a beautiful story of friendship that recalls greats of the genre, such as Beaches. For those who have lost loved ones to cancer, expect to be surprised at how much this little gem gets correct. False promises about hair loss and the shroud of uncertainty surrounding treatments can often be difficult to digest. The crowning moment is a stripped-down version of “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” a song that I never expected in a million years to elicit a tearful reaction. The bonds of friendship are powerful, and can often usurp familial connections. Sitting in Bars with Cake doubles down by exploring a true story with every bit of care and nuance it deserves.
Get ready to satiate your sweet tooth when Sitting in Bars with Cake debuts exclusively to Prime Video on Friday, September 8th.