Producers: Susan Cartsonis, Brent Emery, Suzanne Farwell and Nick Moceri   Director:  Trish Sie   Screenplay: Audrey Shulman   Cast: Yara Shahidi, Odessa A’zion, Ron Livingston, Martha Kelly, Rish Shah, Navid Negahban and Bette Midler   Distributor: Prime Video

Grade: C

Despite the fact that it takes its title from Audrey Shulman’s 2015 book, Trish Sie’s film actually treats the cutesy idea of “cakebarring” which was its humorous centerpiece as secondary to a tale of untimely illness, a heavy subject which Shulman had written about separately but now combines with the book’s lighthearted theme.  The result is an odd hybrid in which the book’s rom-com spirit is overwhelmed by a melodramatic story of a tragically shortened friendship—a recipe that, however well-intentioned (and well-acted), turns out rather ill-proportioned.

Shulman’s counterpart in the semi-fictionalized reworking of her actual experience is Jane (Yara Shahidi), a shy girl who works in an office mailroom while studying for the LSAT.  Her best friend and roommate is Corinne (Odessa A’zion), an extrovert who’s an aide to Benita (Bette Midler), a bulldozing agent at a PR company.

Jane’s love of baking spectacularly imaginative cakes gives Corinne an idea: why doesn’t Jane take some of her confections to the LA bars they visit, as a means of attracting guys with a sweet tooth?  Jane reluctantly agrees, and the plan works marvelously.  Jane will eventually wind up with Owen (Rish Shah), a co-worker in the company’s legal department willing to help her with her studies, as well as to enjoy the cakes.  (The original of this part of the script formed the basis for Shulman’s book, a collection of various cake recipes with short tales about her dates appended to them.) 

Sadly, as happened in real life Audrey’s (i.e., Jane’s) roommate, here called Corinne, suddenly suffers a seizure that doctors diagnose as resulting from a brain tumor.  And while the cakebarring thread isn’t entirely jettisoned, nor is Jane’s relationship with Owen—the former morphs into an internal debate about whether Jane should continue docilely accepting the insistence of her father Isaac (Navid Negahban) and go to law school or follow her dream of opening a bakery, while the latter is shaken by the revelation that Owen was only one of the men targeted in the cakebarring scheme—the focus shifts decisively to Corinne’s treatment and Jane’s embrace of her role as caregiver.

Of course she’s not the only one hovering about the patient.  In addition to all the medical personnel in the hospital scenes, there are Corinne’s parents Fred (Ron Livingston) and Ruth (Martha Kelly), who fly in from Phoenix.  Fred tries to persuade his daughter to return to Arizona with them, but she demurs, and so the two stay with the girls, Fred busying himself with fix-it jobs around the place to prove that they can’t leave yet—though eventually they tearfully do, leaving Jane as Corinne’s primary caregiver until the inevitable happens.

In tying the two very different, if contemporaneous, stories together, Shulman has produced something unwieldy, and even a commendable effort by Sie and her cast can’t overcome the jarring emotional shifts.  The most authentic and memorable part of the resultant mixture is the performance by A’zion, who navigates the change from the upbeat, ambitious Corinne we meet at the beginning to the understandably disheartened one toward the close with considerable skill, never allowing the character to lose her sharp, acerbic edge, even as her hope of recovery fades.  Shahidi is initially engaging but withdrawn, and conveys Jane’s sympathetic, caring and finally devastated attitude reasonably well, but remains in A’zion’s shadow. 

With Livingston, the film enters what might be called maudlin sitcom mode, and though the actor makes Fred reasonably appealing in his helplessness, neither he nor Kelly, as his morosely mousy wife, feel like more than place-holders until the story can return to its central pair.  Shah makes a bland romantic interest for Jane, while Midler, in what amounts to a cameo, has to attempt a transformation from bellicose in a brief scene at the beginning to caring in an equally brief one at the end that comes across as forced; but she shouldn’t be blamed overmuch, as the fault really lies in the writing.

Tracy Dishman’s production design and Matthew Clark’s cinematography, like the performances, shift over the course of the story, from the brightly colored LA nightlife depicted early on to the drabber surroundings of the third act, when Corinne’s illness is taking its toll and those around her are trying to alleviate her pain.  Both Lauren Connelly’s editing and Jeff Cardoni’s score follow a similar pattern, going from exuberantly energetic to quietly downcast, though the treatment leaves room for what can be described as an upbeat fictional coda about how the experience changed Jane’s life.

Shulman’s desire to celebrate her friend’s life is admirable, and the cast and crew’s dedication to bringing her account to the screen is in many ways impressive. But the result never escapes the feeling of winding up, if you’ll forgive the expression, somewhat half-baked.