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Movie Review: The Cake Eaters — A Teenage Girl Who Happens to Have Friedreich's Ataxia

Gomez, Stefania H.; Gomez, Christopher M. MD, PHD

doi: 10.1097/01.NT.0000390836.34841.80

I don't really have a lot of time to wait.” So says Georgia Kaminski, a 15-year-old girl with Friedreich's ataxia, of finding love in the independent film, “The Cake Eaters” (2007), directed by actress Mary Stuart Masterson. The drama unfolds as Georgia strives to experience a normal adolescence despite her rare, terminal neurological illness, and as two families, the Kaminskis and the Kimbroughs, come together to navigate the rough waters of loss and redemption.

Georgia meets Beagle Kimbrough at a county flea market, where she and her grandmother sell portrait photography meant to raise awareness for Friedreich's ataxia. Beagle and his father, Easy, are there to sell the clothing and personal items of Beagle's recently deceased mother. The two begin a fast-paced courtship quickened by the ever-looming and imminent notion of Georgia's worsening disease. Georgia thinks this may be her only love before her disease ends her life.

The story becomes even more complicated with the return of Beagle's brother, Guy. Upon learning of his mother's death — and missing her funeral — he has returned home after moving to the city for three years. Beagle, having organized virtually the entire funeral, holds an unspoken grudge against Guy for what Beagle perceives as abandonment. Guy's return ultimately sparks enough conflict at home that Beagle's relationship with Georgia becomes an escape to normalcy just as it is for Georgia.

Writer Jayce Bartok named the film as an ironic comparison between the fortunate –– those who can have their cake and eat it too – and the film's characters, who have come on hard times. Through each other, however, Georgia and Beagle find love – in a sense, some cake to eat.

“The Cake Eaters” is the story of a girl who is terminally ill, but whose disease does not define her. Though her ataxia is evident in every scene as part of her daily life, the film does not focus on the debilitating aspects of the neuromuscular disease or its causes. The story centers on the disease's emotional impact on a teenage girl. Viewers get a firsthand look at how the disease affects the way Georgia looks, walks, and talks – and how it alters her social life, her love life, and her experience of typical adolescence.



Georgia spends most of her time locked away at home, with no friends, and no escape. She feels that she does not have a future, a realistic expectation for a disease that can confine someone to a wheelchair between 10 and 20 years after the first appearance of symptoms. Georgia has a sense of urgency that forces her to make important decisions, such as when to lose her virginity, quickly and brashly. She wants to take a relationship that far before it's too late, at a point that is normally considered to be too early. Beagle and Georgia's relationship could seem rushed or inappropriate, but in their own way, they are just what each other need.

Headed by an impressive cast — Kristen Stewart, pre-“Twilight” fame, plays Georgia, and Bruce Dern is Easy — “The Cake Eaters” provides insight into the personal lives of teenagers and kids with Friedreich's ataxia and raises awareness and understanding of this tragic condition. For this among other reasons, the film, now available on DVD through Amazon, Netflix, and other film outlets, is worth recommending to patients and neurologists alike.

Stefania H. Gomez is a 15-year-old sophomore at the University of Chicago Laboratory schools who enjoys writing, acting, and listening to Bob Dylan. Her father and co-author Dr. Gomez is the Albina Y. Surbis Professor and Chair of the Department of Neurology at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

©2010 American Academy of Neurology