Based on the book by Audrey Shulman (who also wrote the screenplay), this “inspired by true events” story follows two lifelong best friends, now in their 20s and living in Los Angeles, trying to maneuver through their wildly different approaches to social activities, work, and parental expectations as they prepare for the next phase of their lives. The would-be law student Jane (Yara Shahidi) is a bit shy but is exceedingly talented as a baker; Corinne (Odessa A’zion) is far more extroverted and gives her friend the idea of taking her elaborate and yummy cakes to various bars around town, serving up free slices and hopefully meeting a nice guy along the way; they call it Cake-barring, and they schedule a 50-bar run over a year-long period.
Directed by Trish Sie (Step Up: All In; Pitch Perfect 3), Sitting in Bars with Cake starts out a bit frivolous, to the point where I was on the verge of losing my interest in either of these two young women. As appealing as they are for various reasons, if this was going to be another food-centric love story, I had better things on which to concentrate. However, deep into the movie, Corrine gets what is described as a life-altering diagnosis, and the friends face lifestyle changes the likes of which they’ve never experienced. Thankfully, Jane is smart, organized, and deeply compassionate, and she seems more than up to the task of taking care of her friend while also balancing a new romance with a workplace colleague whom she had a crush on before the whole cake-barring experiment.
With the help of Corinne’s bizarre but well-meaning parents (Ron Livingston and Martha Kelly), and Jane’s own parents (Adina Porter, Navid Negahban) providing emotional support—but still a bit shocked when Jane expresses second thoughts about law school—the friends move through this phase of their lives with different approaches but a common goal of getting Corinne out the other side of this dilemma. Still, Corinne resists certain life-altering changes and rejects the idea that Jane puts aside the cake-barring just because of Corinne’s illness. Needless to say, the back half of Sitting in Bars with Cake is a great deal heavier than expected, and that’s a good thing.
Without realizing it maybe until this movie, I seem to be a fan of watching people (especially young people with seemingly no real problems) have a massive crisis enter their lives from which they have no chance of escaping or otherwise avoiding. There is something about the way people handle themselves in their first life-altering moment that tells me so much about them, and usually it’s not good; it’s those people at their worst, and it shows us (and them) what they are made of.
And somehow, this film that starts out lighthearted and without much substance transforms into something unexpectedly deeply emotional and wholly honest about these young women and who they are, alone and together. It took me utterly by surprise, and the annoying cameo by Bette Midler as Corinne’s boss aside, the film is redemptive, inspiring, colorful, delectable (Jane’s cake designs are glorious), and showed me a great deal about the unique nature of female friendship. No one was more stunned than I was by how much I ultimately enjoyed this movie despite a rocky start. Give it a shot and then stick with it. Much like the characters, it improves with age.
The film is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
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