Recipe for a Delightful Movie:
- 1 part Writer/Director/Actress Adrianne Shelly
- 1 part quirky story about a pregnant southern woman unhappy in her abusive marriage
- 1 part completely charming actors
Mix ingredients until well blended
Bake for approximately two hours
Waitress is this year’s little independent film that could. Like last year’s breakout Sundance darling, Little Miss Sunshine, Waitress has everything that it takes to be the indie hit everyone will be talking about.
Keri Russell (Felicity, MI3), who appears to finally be on the cusp of some well-deserved success, plays Jenna, a waitress at a small Southern diner that specializes in pies. She is married to Earl (Jeremy Sisto), a weak, narcissistic man who we first meet as a controlling jerk, but by the end is using his fists to get his points across. Jenna has begun hoarding away small amounts of cash and intends to leave Earl as soon as she has enough to support herself. A masterful baker, she dreams of entering the Great American Pie Bake-Off where the grand prize of $25,000 would allow her to be free and clear of her husband for good. “My whole life, all I’ve wanted to do was run away,” she confesses.
Whenever Jenna feels overwhelmed by circumstances, she enters into an almost meditative state in which she concocts the different pies she plans on creating, naming them after her own life experiences.
“I Hate My Husband Pie”
It is about this time that Jenna discovers she is pregnant. For her, baby is a four letter word—no, the other four letter word. She makes it very clear to everyone that she is having the “alien parasite” but is in no way happy about it…and neither should they be. Her two best friends at the diner, Becky (Cheryl Hines) and Dawn (Adrianne Shelly), give her a baby book as a present within which she writes letters to her unborn child, confessing her deep unhappiness.
“Pregnant Miserable Self Pity and Loser Pie...Flambé of Course”
Jenna goes in for a check-up, meeting the handsome, new doctor. Evoking more than a little of Cary Grant’s clumsy, screwball nature, Dr. Pomatter (Firefly’s Nathan Fillion) is a clumsy wreck, instantly smitten with his gloomy patient. Like Old Joe, (the impeccably cast Andy Griffith), the crotchety patron who constantly tells Jenna to run away and “start fresh,” Dr. Pomatter sees in Jenna what she cannot see in herself—a beautiful and extraordinary soul yearning to be free. For Jenna’s part, no one has ever shown her such tenderness and respect. “I was addicted to saying things,” she writes in her baby book, “and have them matter to someone.” It isn’t long before she and Dr. Pomatter (she never once uses his first name) find themselves madly in love and in the midst of a steamy affair. Jenna claims to be a deeply unhappy person, but every time she has a “doctor’s appointment,” you’d never be able to tell.
“I Can't Have No Affair Because It's Wrong and I Don't Want Earl to Kill Me Pie”
In the end, the birth of Jenna’s baby has exactly the opposite effect she thought it would, though we in the audience may have suspected all along. Slowly but surely, she realizes her tremendous worth and finds her voice, asserting herself in ways she never dreamed possible and awakening to the beauty that was there all along.
Waitress was written, directed and stars Adrianne Shelly (The Unbelievable Truth, Trust). Shelly has crafted a film that, at times, seems half a century older than it actually is, evoking a sort of quirky sentimentality that feels both outdated and sorely missed. She has crafted a story populated with enduring, memorable characters and has given them delightfully funny things to do and say. That the film manages to so deftly handle its infectiously humorous elements alongside genuine hopelessness and drama is completely Shelley’s talent. That she found such gifted and capable leads in Russell and Fillion is the icing on the…pie.
Sadly, despite how heartwarming it is, Waitress is suffused with tragedy. Seven months ago, as the finishing touches were being put on her film, Adrianne Shelly was found dead in her New York City apartment. At first ruled a suicide, it was later discovered that she had been murdered by a construction worker with whom she’d had an altercation. Waitress is a beautiful and poignant swan song for what should have been the vanguard of a blossoming career.
Although this delicious film ends brimming with hope, one cannot shake the sad, bittersweet melancholy. I chose to not even try. I simply left the theater, walked straight to my local diner and ordered a large slice of Coconut Cream pie.
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