Director: Adrienne Shelly
Screenwriter: Adrienne Shelly
Executive Producers: Todd King, Jeff Rose
Producer: Michael Roiff
Cast: Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, Cheryl Hines, Jeremy Sisto, Andy Griffith
U.S.A., 2006, 104 min.
*Stories about poor women struggling to survive often make use of a rugged vérité aesthetic, but director Adrienne Shelly boldly defies convention with her radiant and gorgeously stylized feature film, Waitress.
Jenna (Keri Russell) is a poor southern woman stuck in a bad marriage to her jealous jerk of a husband, Earl (Jeremy Sisto). Jenna works at Joe's Pie Diner, where every day she creates amazing pies that she titles after whatever's going on in her life. One day, she discovers she is pregnant and makes "I Don't Want Earl's Baby" pie. Jenna dreams of running away, but she is trapped inside her miserable life by poverty and her inability to access her own personal strength. Then she meets Dr. Pomatter, the handsome new gynecologist in town. When a friend encourages her to write a letter to her unwanted baby, an unexpected love story develops that changes Jenna's life.
Russell delivers a wonderful, complex performance as Jenna, a repressed woman reaching for happiness, while Shelly infuses the film with a luminous magical sensibility and an endearing sense of humor. Confident and clear in vision, Waitress makes delicious upside-down cake of the Cinderella myth.
*Summary by Shari Frilot, SUNDANCE Film Programmer
This was a cute film; light as air and about as meaningful. Waitress is very sweet and has some very good dialogue, but ultimately, it’s something I’ve seen a million times, and forgot very quickly. But you can’t slam a movie like this too much, when its heart is so genuine and in the right place. It certainly does feel good to lose yourself in a happy tale after so many tales of sorrow and woe at this festival.
The most meaningful part of this film is the story behind the scenes, about the writer/director, Adrienne Shelly. She was murdered in her New York apartment a couple weeks before the film screened at Sundance. As one can imagine, the screening was a bit mournful, as it was the premiere of the film. It must have been even harder for the crew, cast and her loved ones to watch Mrs. Shelly as she plays one of the main characters in this film. The screening was packed, and that brings me to a point I want to make. Would there have been nearly as many people at the screening if Shelly hadn’t been killed so recently? How many of the audience were just rubber-necking, like car drivers slowing down at a crash on the freeway, trying to eye the disaster? That kind of behavior just makes me sick, do some people choose to go to that screening in the hopes they might witness some grief, some heartbreak? Or am I being ridiculous, maybe the screening was so over-packed because people wanted to actually see the movie despite the drama surrounding it. I’ll stop venting about human nature for the moment.
Again, I don’t feel comfortable slamming this film, but there are some parts of this film that were glaringly amateur-ish. I’m mostly talking about the music cues in the film. At certain parts, they threw in some music cues to heighten the move. For instance, a bad guy is coming near the house, so they play the Jaws theme. Come on, how obvious and clichéd can you get. This type of music cue happened a few other times, using the most obvious music choice available. Am I the only one who is bothered by that kind of thing? Also, certain moments were used too much. For example, Keri Russell’s character, Jenna, is happy for once in the film, so we see her around town with a big smile on her face. Cute, funny, but not when it is repeated in about 13 locations in 13 different shots. Basically, I think the film could use a good editor to trim some of the unprofessional bits. But what do I know?
I also think I may be the only one who did not like Keri Russell’s performance. I like her as an actor, but her attitude in this film was just such a Lifetime TV downer, it got on my nerves. Especially with all the spunk of the supporting actors, Hines, Fillion, Shelly, Griffith, her one-note portrayal of sadness and worry did not get me on her side. However, the best bits were her courtship scenes with the doctor, Dr. Pomatter, played by Nathan Fillion. This guy is one of my favorite actors around, since the Firefly days, and his bumbling charm shines through extremely well in their scenes together. As I mentioned before, the dialogue was consistently excellent, and all the humorous scenes with the doctor, or her co-workers, worked really well. On that note, it was really good to see Andy Griffith back in a movie. He plays a gruff old man with a heart of gold, and each of his scenes reminds the audience of how much humor and integrity he can bring to a film.
I liked the pie-motif; it reminded me a bit of Chocolat, with the creative use of pastries. The pies Jenna creates act as chapters in the story, and they work very well. Near the end of the film, the tone gets a bit dark with the abusive husband. I liked where that storyline was going, and felt that the end was way too neatly wrapped up. First of all, I wanted to keep liking Dr. Pomatter. Even though we already know he has a wife and is cheating on her with Jenna, I didn’t like seeing the wife show up and have there be no resolution to their relationship. Why is the doctor cheating on his apparently wonderful and beautiful wife? Such effort is put into making him a good man, why aren’t we given any insight into the reasons behind his affair? Sure, sure, this is Jenna’s story, but since I didn’t really like her, I became more interested in the fates of the supporting characters.This is quite a rambling review, I apologize. WAITRESS is a light and fun film, despite all the criticism I heap on it above. Really, its heart is in the right place, with very sharply-drawn and hilarious supporting characters. And any film depicting strong women and their struggles to break free from the stereotypical roles in middle America has my vote. Really, there aren’t many women directing and writing films in mainstream Hollywood, and Adrienne Shelly has written a cute and fun film about women striving to be more than they are expected to be. Why is that so rare? Joss Whedon is always asked in interviews, “Why do you write strong female characters?” His response is usually, “Because you are still asking me that question.”