Waitress (Fox Searchlight Pictures, PG-13)

film_waitress_smWaitress is a magnificent tribute to Adrienne Shelly's talent as a filmmaker, a talent built upon warmth, wit, and wonder, and a talent that will be missed.

 

 

 

 

 

Only two months before the premiere of Waitress at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, the film's writer and director, acclaimed indie actress Adrienne Shelly, was tragically murdered. At only 40-years old, Shelly had already established herself as a terrific actress and reputable director for her work in Hal Hartley's Trust and I'll Take You There, respectively. If any sort of light can be found amidst the shadows of such a tremendous loss of a woman with such great talent and transcendent spirit, it is that her memory will be done great justice in her life's final work.

Waitress is the visually striking, cunningly written story of Jenna (Keri Russell), a pie-making, pregnant waitress working in the rural south. Stuck in a miserable marriage to a pig-headed, jealous husband Earl (Jeremy Sisto), Jenna finds herself at the end of her wits, desperately longing for a last chance at happiness, yet tied down by her unborn child and the constraints of being a small-town girl. Jenna's only catharsis can be found in her daily ritual of dreaming up new pies with names like, "I Don't Want Earl's Baby Pie," a colorful motif that is humorously narrated by Russell throughout the film. The hope of a fresh start bursts into Jenna's life, however, with her introduction to a new OB-GYN, the charmingly sweet (but also married) Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion). The inevitable tryst between the two opens Jenna to a new world of happiness, but it's never as easy as running away.

The characters are really what give Waitress its life. Shelly herself plays one of Jenna's co-workers, the aloof and timid Dawn, who is sweetly stalked by the goofy Ogie (Eddie Jemison). As the waitress Becky, Cheryl Hines establishes herself outside of the world of Curb Your Enthusiasm as an entertainingly big-haired older sister figure to Jenna. It's the iconic Andy Griffith, though, who steals every scene he's in, and seems to be having the most fun. As Old Joe, the cantankerous owner of the diner where they all work, Griffith brings just the right amount of humor and heart as he repeatedly turns the mirror on Jenna, taking jabs at her unhappiness while hinting about the joy of that better life. As co-leading men, Fillion and Sisto are both very solid actors, each perfectly representing the two paths that Jenna ostensibly must choose between. It's where Waitress diverges from these clear-cut devices, however, that the film truly succeeds, and Russell portrays a range of emotion with beauty, humor, sexiness, and a touching innocence. Russell reminds the audience why she remains a very good candidate for leading roles, and truly gives Shelly's main character a beating heart.

While the circumstances of this film's release lend a natural sadness, I think its best to walk into the theater with a smile. The lighthearted dialogue, bold cinematography, and romantic themes result in a very happy, inspiring film. Waitress is a magnificent tribute to Shelly's talent as a filmmaker, a talent built upon warmth, wit, and wonder, and a talent that will be missed. | Dave Jasmon

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