Cake Day

By Phillip Thomas | Drama
A recovering addict wakes on his '5-Year Sobriety Day', after relapsing the night before.

Cameron wakes up in the morning from what looks like a bender the night before. But as he throws up in the bathroom, his morning-after hangover is actually a relapse into drug addiction, which has happened on the eve of his “cake day” at Narcotics Anonymous, celebrating five years of sobriety.

As Cameron goes about his day, meeting up with his sponsor and his mother to celebrate his progress, the gap between the day’s purpose and his night before opens up feelings of self-loathing, though he says nothing about what’s happened. But just as he’s recognized for his fight against addiction, a moment of truth and reckoning stands before him.

Written and directed by Phillip Thomas, this Oscar-longlisted short is an incisive look into the psychology of addiction, and the ongoing battle of recovery. The precise storytelling pays almost forensic attention to the ebbs and flows of Cameron’s inner subjectivity as he interacts with the quiet but telling events and conversations of his outer life. This outside world sees Cameron as an evolving, positive person who is successfully resisting addiction, but Cameron grapples with the secret weight of his failure. The gap grows into a chasm that threatens to swallow Cameron.

Shadowy, almost gritty visuals begin the film ambiguously, as Cameron finds himself in a dark place. As the day grows brighter and the images grow more luminous, Cameron can’t shake the cloud that covers and plagues him. The intimate camerawork and sensitive editing foreground his inner experience, juxtaposing the close-ups and cutaways of his face against the supportive social environment around him, in the form of an understanding Narcotics Anonymous meeting and a proud mother.

The schism between the outer positivity of his supportive social environment and his inner failing is difficult to bear, and his spiraling down leads to layers of shame and self-loathing. Actor Cameron Crosby gives a raw, restrained and unvarnished performance that drills down into the self-hate that often drives addicts into their addiction in the first place. What’s most moving about the portrayal of his inner disappointment and self-abhorrence is not how sharp and fresh it is, but how it’s a confirmation of his worst fears of himself. The distinction underscores the central struggle of the addict: it’s not just the substance that is the devil they struggle against, but the inner demons that drive them to it.

“Cake Day” gets to this core with an unusually authentic, psychologically penetrating approach to the narrative of addiction and recovery. It underscores that recovery is “one day at a time.” That phrase has almost become a cliche, but the film gives viewers a fuller understanding of exactly what that means. Recovery is built step by step and choice by choice, and it never ends. It’s a long, sometimes exhausting haul, and sometimes during that lifelong journey, people will stumble. The grace — as Cameron discovers — is picking yourself up, admitting the truth to yourself and choosing to move forward again, and again and again.

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