Roger Ebert Home

Sitting in Bars with Cake

In 2013, Audrey Shulman, sick of being single, came up with a strategy: bake cakes and bring them to bars. She called it "cakebarring." Perhaps she'd meet a man (or "boy," as she called them) through this method. Everyone loves cake, apparently, and luring in a "boy" through his love of sugar is as acceptable as any other kind of lure. Shulman documented the experience on a blog, which got some attention. She then started writing for the Huffington Post, at one point laying out her theory about "cakebarring." The blog then became a book, Sitting in Bars with Cake: Lessons and Recipes from One Year of Trying to Bake My Way to a Boyfriend, a mashup of anecdotes and cake recipes. Shulman wrote the screenplay for the inevitable next step in "cakebarring," the film adaptation, "Sitting in Bars with Cake," directed by Trish Sie.

"Sitting in Bars with Cake," not to be confused with "Riding in Cars with Boys," is not really about the cake part of the equation, even though it starts off there. Jane (Yara Shahidi) and Corinne (Odessa A’zion) have been friends since elementary school. They live in Los Angeles, are roommates, and also work in the same PR agency, based in the Capitol Records building. Corinne is an assistant to a swashbuckling powerhouse (Bette Midler). Jane works in the mail room. She spends her free time baking, afraid to tell her high-powered parents she doesn't want to be a lawyer. The extroverted Corinne thinks quiet Jane needs to have more fun. The idea is born: Jane should bake cakes and bring them to bars. It would be a great way to meet "boys." You gotta have a gimmick, right? The nightlife of Los Angeles holds no appeal for Jane, but she goes along with the plan. Corinne gives her a makeover, too.

Perhaps I don't get the appeal of "cakebarring". Never mind. The setup isn't strongly established, maybe because Jane, at first, is so thinly drawn. Audrey Shulman was open about how much she hated being single. She didn't know how to meet people. She thought this was a way. I might not understand "cakebarring" but Shulman laid out her plan with a clear goal. She was transparent about wanting a mate. Jane, though, is a passive participant. She has a work crush (Rish Shah) but is too shy to talk to him. Having a boyfriend isn't high on her list of priorities, which of course is fine, but it brings the whole "cakebarring" project into question. The first time Jane brings a cake to a bar, a couple of men creep toward her, like tentative animals approaching Snow White in the forest. They want to see the cake. They want to taste the cake. Jane doesn't seem all that interested in having interactions with random "boys," and so the scene feels more awkward and maybe even weird, as opposed to the opening up of new possibilities.

Perhaps a comparison is in order. In the film "Something New," Sanaa Lathan's character is established with very clear lines from the first shot. She is an A-type workaholic, and yet she is so lonely she can barely stand it. She's running out of time (she thinks) to find a mate. Everything that follows—from the man she meets to the garden she plants in her backyard—is part of her cracking open to the joys of life, and not just romantic joys (but romantic as well). She embraces spontaneity; she takes time to decompress. She lets go. Lathan is such an appealing and open presence, her sadness so apparent that you're instantly invested in this woman finding happiness. The same doesn't happen in "Sitting in Bars with Cake."

"Sitting in Bars with Cake" takes a drastic turn early on. What happens is based on true events, and the idea of cakebarring mainly flies out the window. Corinne faces a severe health challenge. Her parents (Ron Livingston and Martha Kelly) camp out in the young womens' apartment, worrying and fussing. Corinne's illness is the galvanizing force of "Sitting in Bars with Cake," and A’zion is superb at showing the resilient, outgoing Corinne facing the unforeseen disaster befalling her young life. Bette Midler's presence in a very small role is not a coincidence. "Beaches" may have come out in 1988, but it casts a long shadow. "Sitting in Bars with Cake" is its heir.

And so this is not a story of shy Jane finding a boyfriend through her extraordinary elaborate cakes (created for the film by pastry chef Megan Potthoff). It's the story of lifelong friends coping with the unexpected, being there for each other, through thick and thin, in health and in sickness. Because Corinne's diagnosis is so central, the film thankfully avoids the trap of "illness as plot point", and A'zion's performance is so strong it's impossible not to feel Corinne's sense of loss, her sense of how unfair it all is, even when (or especially when) she tries to cover it up with cracking a joke.

The "cakebarring" montages are a tour of legendary Los Angeles night spots (Clifton's Cafeteria, Moonlight Rollerway), and there is a welcome sense of real location, so often missing in contemporary film. The cake part of the story feels imposed, a problem since it is the film's organizing principle. It is a tribute to the two young actresses and the supporting cast that this caring friendship survives the artificial cakebarring. Melodrama, as "Sitting in Bars with Cake" is, serves a purpose. It provides a space for catharsis and deep feeling and presents real human themes that affect our lives.

"Cakebarring" is still a mystery (although the cakes created by Potthoff are outrageous-looking and cool), and what it provides Jane initially is not clear. But the friendship story is touching and real.

Now playing on Prime Video.

Sheila O'Malley

Sheila O'Malley received a BFA in Theatre from the University of Rhode Island and a Master's in Acting from the Actors Studio MFA Program. Read her answers to our Movie Love Questionnaire here.

Now playing

Bodkin
Challengers
Mother of the Bride
Gasoline Rainbow
Franklin
Irena's Vow

Film Credits

Sitting in Bars with Cake movie poster

Sitting in Bars with Cake (2023)

Rated PG-13 for strong language, some drug use, sexual references and thematic elements.

Cast

Yara Shahidi as Jane

Odessa A'zion as Corinne

Bette Midler as Benita

Ron Livingston as Fred

Maia Mitchell as Liz

Aaron Domínguez as Dave

Rish Shah as Owen

Martha Kelly as Ruth

Adina Porter as Tasha

Navid Negahban as Isaac

Director

Writer (based on the book by)

Writer

Cinematographer

Editor

Composer

Latest blog posts

Comments

comments powered by Disqus