Written and Directed by: Adrienne Shelly
We did it! We cracked triple digits! I’m working on a brief round-up to commemorate this milestone, but I’d just like to thank all of you who take time out of your day to read these reviews, especially the ones who have been here since the beginning and have sent me some excellent suggestions. I hope you’ll stick around for the 67 more movies I have left in my queue - and for what’s to come after that. I have some exciting ideas.
“Waitress” was an indie darling in 2007. But its buzz was also sadly tinged with the tragic death of writer/director Adrienne Shelly, who was senselessly murdered before the film was released. Any untimely death is a tragedy, but Shelly’s is even more tragic because this film, her third, is a funny and well-crafted comedy. It’s a real shame that we won’t get to see any more of her work.
Keri Russell stars as Jenna, a waitress at a rural America pie cafe. In addition to serving customers, Jenna also specializes in inventing and baking the best pies around. Her dreams of using her talents to open her own pie shop are kept in check by her husband Earl (Jeremy Sisto), an insecure, mean-spirited man who insists that he be the only thing that Jenna is focused on. Earl isn’t the textbook abusive husband that often populates films like this. He’s actually rather pathetic, a small man who relishes wielding control over the only thing he can - his wife.
Early in the film, Jenna learns that she’s pregnant, something she’s neither prepared for nor particularly happy about, most of all because a baby would squash any hopes she has of escaping Earl’s grasp. Her best friends and confidantes are also waitresses, the brassy, in-your-face Becky (Cheryl Hines) and the mousy Dawn, played by Shelly. She also gets life advice from the pie shop’s owner Joe, mainly because Joe is so ornery that Jenna is the only person who will tolerate him. Joe is played by the great Andy Griffith, in one of my favorite performances of the movie.
Jenna’s pregnancy sends her to the town’s new OB/GYN, Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion). He’s a shy, nervous man, but not shy enough to hide his instant crush on Jenna. Soon, the two of them are engaged in a loving, passionate affair. But with Jenna’s due date looming, combined with the fact that they’re cheating on their spouses, they soon have to confront their own realities and decide if happiness is worth the destruction it will wreak on both of their lives.
“Waitress” takes a while to get going, but once it does, it really clicks. Russell and Fillion make a cute couple. There are two types of movie romances. The kind that make you angry because real life is nothing like what you’re seeing on screen. And the ones that make you kind of sad because you wish you could experience the kind of romance that the characters have. Jenna and Dr. Pomatter’s relationship is the latter. I guess I’m kind of exposing my single guy status here.
But beneath the sweet romance is a layer of darkness. The fact remains that both of these characters are having an affair, one that will have drastic consequences if they’re ever found out. This threat hovers around them constantly. And these characters aren’t shallow or oblivious. They’re both aware that their actions have consequences.
With all these issues floating around (Jenna’s pregnancy, her shattered marriage, the affair), a tidy resolution would be almost impossible. But the biggest flaw in “Waitress” is Shelly’s attempt to provide just that. All of the storylines are neatly wrapped up in the last ten minutes of the film, including a true deus ex machina courtesy of Andy Griffith’s character. I found myself disappointed, mainly because Shelly had done so well at making these characters real and sympathetic. The pat ending seemed like a cop-out.
But at its best, “Waitress” is charming and often very funny. There’s a bit of an overload in the down-home wisdom department, but in a movie where pies are used as a metaphor for life, I guess that’s to be expected. This is a warm, fun movie. And even though Adrienne Shelly’s voice was prematurely silenced, this film is a fitting way to remember her.