It is hard to take
Waitress on its own values because even the lightest moments of this
beautifully whimsical tale carries with it some horrific baggage. The
tragic murder last November of writer/director/co-star Adrienne Shelly by a
construction worker in her New York apartment/office casts a bittersweet
shadow on the film. This was the third opportunity as a director for
Shelly – who had been a cult-favorite actress from movies like Hal
Hartley's Trust and The Unbelievable Truth – and it was her
best shot to break into the mainstream. In fact, the film was already
accepted to be in the Sundance Festival when the murder happened.
The cruelty of fate is made
even more baffling by the bright, generally optimistic point of view of the
script and film which Shelly had fashioned. Many of the characters in
Waitress are unhappy and yet they hold out the hope and expectation of
life getting better. In an indie movie world which generally embraces
stories about squandered opportunities, Waitress is a movie which
celebrates people who stumble often before finally getting it right.
These epiphanies are not
necessarily realistic, but it is just this lack of hard-core realism, this
whimsical quality, which makes Waitress such an endearing tale.
Waitress is unabashedly romantic (about life as well as love),
delivering most of its characters from lives of quiet desperation into new
places where they are more sure of their purposes. Some find it in
love. Some find it in parenthood. Some find it in work.
Some find it in the creation of pastry. One character even finds it in
one last magnanimous gesture before death.
– supplies the face and heart of the story. Russell is Jenna, a
chipper-but-terminally depressed waitress and cook at a pie shop in a small
town. She hates her clingy, jealous, violent husband (Jeremy Sisto of
Six Feet Under) and is saving money to escape from him. She
doesn't particularly like her job – except that she loves creating pies for
the restaurant. She makes special pies which she literally uses to try
to exorcise her sorrows. Keri Russell
– who hasn't
worked nearly enough since her days in the acclaimed TV series
When a drunken night with
the husband leaves Jenna pregnant she is not happy so much as resentful of
the baby coming along to give her another obstacle towards leaving.
She enters into a halting relationship with her new doctor (Nathan Fillion
of Firefly and Drive) which opens her eyes not only to the
possibility of true love but also her own potential.
Many of the best scenes
revolve around Jenna's work, where she is best friends with the two other
waitresses (Shelly and Cheryl Hines of Curb Your Enthusiasm).
Both are also searching for love (or at least attention) and find their own
types of happiness. Also at the diner are the
angry-but-surprisingly-insightful cook (Lew Temple) and the crotchety owner
(Andy Griffith) who will only let down his guard around Jenna.
All of these characters
have their little quirks and foibles, but in the long run all of them are
looking for is a little happiness. The sweet, comic, smart and
consistently surprising script (one character's response to the idea of
pregnant women drinking coffee is one of the best punchlines I've seen in a
movie this year) makes even the most poignant and sad moments here strangely
uplifting. You get the feeling that Shelly was a truly optimistic
person who believed in happy endings – which makes her own ending all the
Waitress is not a
perfect movie, but it is one that is easy to love. It is a sweet fable with heart, beauty and laughter. Shelly
did a terrific job – both as a screenwriter and a director – and
would have undoubtedly grown and deepened even more as a filmmaker. You really have
to grieve for all of the squandered potential and life force which was lost
because of a single, senseless, violent act. (5/07)
Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Posted: May 27, 2007.