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Sitting in Bars with Cake movie review: Prime Video’s new film is light-hearted but not lightweight

It’s surprising how quickly Sitting in Bars with Cake abandons the whimsy of that title and turns into something else entirely. Based on the autobiographical book of the same name by Audrey Shulman and directed by Trish Sie, the new Prime Video movie begins as an effortless romantic comedy circa 2006 might, but the end of act one brings a tonal shift so drastic that it can’t help but leave you scrambling to keep up. It’s like experiencing a sugar rush followed by a particularly heavy crash.

Not that the movie is unpleasant in any way; in fact, it’s actually quite easygoing. Many of its scenes are positively low-energy, considering the gravity of what is going on. But the movie’s understated approach to these situations is a part of its charm. Yara Shahidi plays Jane, a young woman in her mid-20s, working in the mailroom at a Los Angeles record label. Her best friend and roommate is Corinne, a more bohemian person on the up-and-up at the same company.

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It’s Corinne who comes up with the frankly brilliant idea of Jane capitalising on her love for baking and taking luscious cakes with herself to bars with the express purpose of, as Jane puts it, ‘baiting boys with sugar’. With a bunch of their friends, Jane and Corinne devise an elaborate plan that involves a cork board and post-its, as if they’ve just been recruited to join Tyler Rake on an extraction mission. They bring the same intensity as Rake would to gunfights, as they come up with a list of 50 cakes for Jane to prepare for her nights out. These cakes will collectively serve as her personal Barney Stinson, beckoning men over in the most delicious manner imaginable and going, “Have you met Jane?”

The experiment backfires the first time, but after a few more attempts, the movie settles into a quick-footed rhythm, encouraging you to sit back and relax as the shenanigans progress. But this, surprisingly enough, is when it choses to stop in its tracks and hit you over the head with a twist so unexpected that it takes at least five full minutes for you to accept what is going on, and then around five more to understand that this new route is the one that the movie is going to stick with.

It would be unfair to discuss what happens, but let’s just say that the narrative takes a rather serious turn at around the 30-minute mark, after which it begins to resemble The Big Sick (but with even less comedy). In fact, for the most part, Sitting in Bars with Cakes is a rather sombre drama — an unusually insightful little movie about female friendship that just happens to have a romantic subplot unfolding in the background.

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This is a fully deliberate move, of course; it isn’t like they pulled the rug from under your feet, or that they even wanted to. As frothy as that premise sounded in the film’s opening minutes, the post-twist segments are dramatically richer. In fact, calling it a ‘twist’ doesn’t even sound appropriate; it makes the plot development in question feel like a gimmick. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

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In addition to the steady-handed writing, the film’s performances help the tonal shift feel more graceful. Shahidi is such a vulnerable actor, as is Odessa A’zion, who plays Corinne. In many ways, Sitting in Bars with Cake is a two hander, held aloft by an able supporting cast led by Ron Livingston and Martha Kelley as Corinne’s parents, and Rish Shah as Jane’s love interest. That being said, the movie can’t help but feel very familiar. The ingredients with which it is made aren’t particularly fresh, nor is the combination in which they’re used radical. But Sitting in Bars with Cake delivers the comfort that fans of the genre have come to rely on, and sometimes, that can be enough.

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Sitting in Bars with CakeDirector – Trish SieCast – Yara Shahidi, Odessa A’zion, Ron Livingston, Martha Kelley, Rish ShahRating – 3.5/5

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