"Aren't you going to try your dessert?"
It was a fairly innocuous question, but when you watch Oliver painstakingly examine the lemon cake with curd glaze at Curly's retirement party---far removed from the comment itself--- you begin to see just how loaded it truly is when placed in the context of the film as a whole. In every way the delicious dessert is a symbol of a sweet moment soured by insecurity and indecision with the repeated references to an opportunity missed that makes lemon cake with a curd glaze so much more.
Equally clever and tragic are the mentions of the cake the following Monday. Shane's duplicitous comments about "the incredible" cake he "should have tried" remind both Oliver, and us, of the opportunity missed. That's what makes Oliver's follow-up inquiry about "custard, curd or meringue" so heartbreaking. It's like Oliver is trying to find out exactly what he missed from a technical standpoint, only to find out he passed on his top two preferences. Of course we all know there is a difference between knowing what something is and experiencing it for oneself.
Fortunately for Oliver, he has a second chance to experience what he missed, and it proves an unexpectedly powerful moment for Oliver. Before we can get to the epiphany, though, there are some finer points that simply can't be overlooked.
For example, I find it extremely interesting that Oliver's conversation with Dale at the party has to be interrupted in order for him to be reminded there's "cake" at the party. He didn't even know Shane was there before that point because he was otherwise engaged. Distracted by Dale, Oliver almost missed "dessert" again. I put "cake" and "dessert" in quotes because the minute Oliver bites into it for the first time, the cake, Shane and dessert become synonymous.
What happens when Oliver finally bites into the cake is a glimpse into Oliver's soul, where "cake" and "dessert" as symbols reveal his deeply-felt desire for a relationship with Shane---and Shane with Oliver---that saturates the entire flashback. The love and longing expressed in Michael and Sophia's dance, layered with glimpses of Shane and Oliver dancing, reinforce the depth and impact of Oliver's feelings. His unexpressed love almost made him strong enough to grab Shane's hand, even after all that had transpired throughout the evening. To replace Michael and Sophia with he and Shane for that dip, which is so wrought with meaning in the ShOliver relationship, and allowing the moment to continue until just before their lips met---there's a subtle intimacy to the whole moment that takes your breathe away. All of this is the consequence of Oliver finally allowing himself to experience the cake for himself.
With it, however, came a sobering realization of what his insecurity, indecision and over-thinking might have cost him that evening. At the same time Oliver is realizing these things, he is also making the connection between Shane and the purchase of the lemon cake with curd glaze in the first place. This prompts him to finally confront the fear that so recently handicapped him, using the cake to express his desire for a second chance with Shane, solidifying his step forward by calling it a date. Oliver finds a way to have the real "cake," and eat it, too! Yay for FINALLY making it to "dessert!"
More Sweet Than Sour,