By Lynn Venhaus
“Sitting in Bars with Cake” may not be an original idea, using baking skills as a romance magnet, but it’s an appealing, sweet premise that unfolds as a deeper-than-you-realized emotional ode to friendship.
Best friends since their childhood in Phoenix, outgoing Corinne (Odessa A’zion) and shy Jane (Yara Shahidi) are in their 20s, living in Los Angeles and navigating their career paths. They join a group of girlfriends every weekend to experience the local nightlife.
One such evening, Jane brings the chocolate cake that she baked for Corinne’s birthday into a bar, and the beautifully decorated cake entices guys, who are craving a piece. Aha! Corinne comes up with an idea of bringing Jane’s cakes to bars around town to get Jane out of her comfort zone and she can meet more people. The goal: 50 cakes in a year. And what a life-changing year it is.
At first, the movie is fun and breezy, capturing the energy of 20-somethings navigating their place in the world. Then, it veers into heartfelt and sincere as it deals with a life-altering diagnosis.
Audrey Shulman penned the screenplay based on true events with her BFF Chrissy. What started as a blog in 2013 turned into a published 2015 cookbook about looking for Mr. Right by using a specific way to a man’s heart.
She recounted her year spent baking, ‘cake-barring,’ and offering slices of creative dessert in “Sitting in Bars with Cake: Lessons and Recipes from One Year of Trying to Bake My Way to a Boyfriend” that included 35 inventive recipes.
Each made-from-scratch cake was paired with a short essay and a tongue-in-cheek lesson about meeting guys, with such chapters: Sweet, Salty, Bitter, Fruity, and Savory. The guys ran the gamut from tech bros and cowboys to hipster nerds and bikers.
In the movie, cakes range from classics like Pumpkin Pie and Carrot Cakes to adventurous Chinese Prune, Licorice and Leather, Pina Colada Cocktail and a cherry-flavored CBD infused cake, all supervised by culinary producer and food stylist Megan Potthoff, a former pastry chef – and they are works of art. She’s worked on “Master Chef” and “Iron Chef,” among other TV and movie projects. If your mouth doesn’t water, you have the willpower of steel.
For the movie adaptation, Shulman shifts the dating focus as secondary to the very human bond between the roommates. How Generation Z finds their way in becoming the people they want to be is a major aspect of the story, and a good one to endear the characters.
This is a terrific cast, with Yara Shahidi as plain Jane and Odessa A’zion as live-wire Corinne believable as besties going through a year of life changes. Both rising stars after these strong and warm performances, they project a palpable bond. Shahidi, who played Zoey on “black-ish” and was Tinkerbell in the Disney “Peter and Wendy” reboot, pairs well with A’zion and her work crush Owen (Rish Shah). She works as a mailroom clerk, but she’s in her happy place baking, and needs to own up to her lack of desire to attend law school, her parent’s dream for her.
A’zion, most known for the 2020 “Hellraiser” remake, conveys resilience and her character’s commitment to not losing her indomitable spirit. She’s the fun-seeker, the goofball belting out “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” at karaoke, waking up her roomie to order fries on a late-night food run, and eager to shake things up in general. In short, the life of the party.
The supporting cast is also aces, with Bette Midler as Corinne’s uber-hip music industry boss Benita, Ron Livingston and Martha Keller as Corinne’s doting parents Fred and Martha, and Navid Negahban and Adina Porter as Jane’s driven parents Isaac and Tasha.
Director Trish Sie, of “Pitch Perfect 3,” keys into the quirkiness of Los Angeles nightlife – a drag show at a roller rink? — and an uncommon office setting with various personalities making their presence known.
Production Designer Tracy Dishmann includes clever graphics to announce each cake, and captures well the girls’ apartment and all the hangouts.
With inevitable comparisons to “Julie and Julia” and “Beaches,” this drama-soaked comedy – not really a rom-com – showcases how friends support each other through sickness and health, ups and downs, and why the value of those relationships is priceless.
“Sitting in Bars with Cake” is a 2023 drama-comedy directed by Trish Sie and starring Yari Shahidi, Bette Midler, Ron Livingston, Martha Kelly, Navid Negahban, Adina Porter,and Rish Shah. It is rated PG-13 for strong language, some drug use, sexual references, and thematic elements and has a runtime of 2 hours, 1 minute. It started streaming on Amazon Prime Sept. 8. Lynn’s Grade: B
Note: this review 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.
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.