Sugar, spice, and the tragedies of life – Sitting in Bars with Cake is a romantic comedy-drama starring Yara Shahidi and Odessa A’zion as best friends Jane and Corinne, who are navigating their early twenties in Los Angeles. Directed by Trish Sie and co-starring Bette Midler, Sitting in Bars with Cake is inspired by true events.
Corinne and Jane could not be more opposite. Life-long friends from Arizona, both women have moved to Los Angeles to strike out on their own, together. Corinne, a vibrant extrovert, has dreams of being an agent at a major music label where she serves under the ever-glamorous Benita (Midler).
Jane, a severe introvert, is studying to be a lawyer like her parents while working with Corinne in the label’s mail room. In an attempt to help bring Jane out of her shell, Corinne devises a plan to capitalise on Jane’s skills as a baker by bringing 50 cakes to 50 bars around the city in a mission they call “cakebarring”. In the midst of their adventure, Corinne receives a life-altering diagnosis of brain cancer, and the pair are suddenly faced with a whole host of challenges that a freshly baked cake just can’t fix.
Sitting in Bars with Cake is a surprising film. With absolutely no context, it looks like your run-of-the-mill romantic comedy where two besties do something a lot of fun and a little unusual to teach the introverted one that risks need to be taken and life is worth living etc. and it absolutely starts out that way.
Jane and Corinne are presented immediately as two sides of the same coin; Corinne has a loud energy and somewhat eccentric fashion sense, while Jane is quiet, prim, and incapable of carrying a conversation. At home, they complement each other and provide balance with Jane’s penchant for organisation operating as a foil to Corinne’s laissez-faire approach to everything. From the beginning, it sets audiences up for what looks like a fun and light-hearted movie about female friendship.
We see this through the whole “cakebarring” process. From the planning stages to the execution, there is a lightness that feels as fluffy as one of Jane’s freshly baked cakes. With their map of the city and list of cake flavours, Corinne helps Jane to open herself up to life, love, and new experiences. The “cakebarring” scenes are not only fun to watch, but Sie uses them brilliantly as a marker for the passing of time, with each cake’s number and flavour placed somewhere in the scene like a bar’s signage or a sticker on the guitar case of a gig musician. The effect of doing this is not only a visual treat but it helps keep the film in pace really well.
When we get to Corinne’s diagnosis, hints for which had been dropped from the earliest scenes if viewers were clever enough to string them together, the tone shifts ever so slightly. Never wanting to lose the loftiness of the movie’s first third entirely, Sie treads into the dramatic territory rather lightly and it’s not until the end of the second act that the tone shifts even more and the stakes start to feel dire. The dynamic and on-screen chemistry between Shahidi and A’zion is crucial to making this work, and the pair consistently deliver.
Shahidi, who is best known for her role in the comedy series Black-ish and its spin-off Grown-ish has such a sweet and unassuming face and demeanour that it takes no effort at all to believe she would have a type-A personality, while A’zion whose previous roles mostly include short-lived TV stints and the 2022 remake of Hellraiser exudes confidence through bold costuming and a cheeky smirk. The friendship between these two young women is so full of love, care, and support that when Corinne’s illness reaches its peak, the pain and impact can be felt physically and emotionally as you watch these women care for each other through it all.
Midler, who initially is portrayed as an uncaring Miranda Priestly type, also has some wonderful moments to shine in the film’s latter half, as Benita displays an acute and somewhat excessive level of care for Corinne’s health and well-being.
Being that this film is based on a biography by Audrey Shulman, telling this story with compassion is key and Sie, with her shining leads, has been able to execute the story beautifully. Sitting in Bars with Cake is a real emotional rollercoaster but never feels too much, too melodramatic, nor too unbelievable.
For a movie that looks on the surface like a silly story about a silly social experiment, Sitting in Bars with Cake has an incredible amount of depth, heart, and will leave you feeling satisfied despite all its sadness.
Sitting in Bars with Cake is available to watch on Prime Video now.