A Bittersweet, Charming Confection

Sadly, this humorous, quirky comedy is the last film of writer/director Adrienne Shelly. The 40-year-old was found dead in her apartment during production—an apparent suicide that was later determined to be a murder. Thus, the release of Waitress is bittersweet, as the film stands as her legacy. Although I found the film to be short of great, it demonstrates some marvelous potential—and Shelly might easily have joined the likes of Nancy Meyers and Nora Ephron as one of the premiere female directors if not for her untimely death.

Shelly also has a supporting role in the film as Dawn, an oddball, love-hungry waitress who—along with Becky—serves as a close friend of the film’s protagonist. Jenna has a big problem: her husband is an abusive, self-absorbed jerk. Thus, you can understand why she’s not too excited at the beginning of the film when she finds out she’s pregnant. “I shouldn’t drink. I do stupid things when I’m drunk, like sleep with my husband,” she tells her friends.

Adrienne Shelly, director of Waitress

Jenna’s only escape comes when she closes her eyes and dreams up a new pie creation, which usually becomes the next day’s special at the diner where she works. Her biggest fan may be the diner’s curmudgeonly owner, Old Joe, although he’d rather bust her chops and invade her personal life than tell her so.

When Jenna visits her Ob-Gyn, she finds another kind of escape… her new doctor, the neurotic Jim Pomatter. Although they are both married, a passionate affair begins that brings back some much needed happiness into her life—as evidenced by a strange little montage of Jenna’s inexhaustibly smiling face. As happy as it makes her, however, Jenna knows the affair isn’t the best thing for everyone involved and as much as she’d like to deny it, there will soon be another little person she needs to be thinking of.

Waitress is one of those films that takes its troubled but otherwise relatively normal protagonist and surrounds her with a cast of quirky, eccentric caricatures—and in this case, a little too much so, I initially thought, as if Shelly had tried too hard in her writing or the actors too hard in their performances. As the film progressed, however, they slowly won me over, most notably Andy Griffith’s grumpy old codger, Joe.

The one exception would be Earl, Jenna’s emotionally and physically abusive husband, played by Six Feet Under vet Jeremy Sisto. Throughout the entire movie he seems too abusive (emotionally—the physical abuse is kept relatively in check), too rude, too redneck. It only takes a couple of scenes of him violently honking his car horn to get Jenna’s attention before we get it: okay, the guy’s a jerk. “You weren’t lying… he’s horrible,” Old Joe tells Jenna at one point. I disliked the character as strongly as I’ve disliked any character in recent films; but in retrospect, I guess that was probably the point.

The anchor of the film is certainly Keri Russell, the veteran of television’s Felicity who recently held her own fighting alongside Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt in Mission Impossible III. As Jenna, she gets her first real leading movie role. She is always believable, always charming and always a pleasure to watch.

Although some major plot points are easily predictable and some editing issues cause the pacing of the film to ebb and flow, for the most part Waitress is a delight, a charming, somewhat whimsical comedy that is uplifting and heartwarming. Adrienne Shelly, high above us, should be proud.

Waitress is rated PG-13 for “sexual content, language and thematic elements.” The rating is appropriate. There are a few brief sex scenes, but they aren’t too racy and the language is relatively moderate.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of Waitress.