Friedrich's ataxia, a progressive neurological disease that causes loss of muscle control, has entered the spotlight of the independent film world.
The Cake Eaters features as one of its central characters 16-year-old Georgia, who has Friedrich's ataxia. She is portrayed brilliantly by the young actress Kristen Stewart, who captures the disease's characteristic rag-doll weakness and awkward gait while projecting a smoldering adolescent sexuality. First-time director Mary Stuart Masterson, best known for her nuanced acting in Fried Green Tomatoes and Benny and Joon, videotaped interviews with real teenagers with Friedrich's ataxia to help prepare Stewart for the role.
But this slow moving and insightful film refuses to buy into the after-school special narrative of the heroic teen who overcomes her disability. Georgia's disability will not be overcome. The disease will persist until, as she puts it, “my heart gives out, and I don't know when that will be.” And Georgia is not always heroic. Her quest to seduce Beagle, a school cafeteria worker played with depth and intelligence by Aaron Stanford, at first barely acknowledges his humanity. She wants to know what sex is like, and he is the means to that end.