Review by Gary Murray


    Adrienne Shelly was a filmmaker on the rise.  This talented woman was a favorite of the USA Film Festival in Dallas, showing her cinematic creations and judging contests.  She was murdered in her office a few months ago.  Waitress is her last film.

    The story of Waitress is of a young woman having an early mid-life crisis.  Jenna (Keri Russell) is in a loveless marriage, doing a low-end job as a waitress at a pie shop/diner.  The husband Earl (Jeremy Sisto) is borderline abusive to the point Jenna fears for her life.  He takes all her money and will not let her own a car, stopping all ways of her independence.  Jenna has a dream, to win a $25,000 pie contest that will give her the needed cash to escape Earl. Her only joy in her life is making pies.  She loves to dream up new pie recipes and giving them crazy names, just as her late mother had done.

The film starts with the worst of news for Jenna, she finds out that she is pregnant from a drunken night with Earl.  Her two co-worker friends Shelly (Cheryl Hines) and Dawn (Adrienne Shelly) feel sorry and happy for her at the same time.  Both women have an imperfect perfect life--Shelly has a husband who is an invalid and Dawn just cannot find the right man.  But neither would want to trade places with Jenna.  They are for her more supportive fellow employees than true companions are.  Jenna, when confronted with the pregnancy news starts thinking of a new pie called the "I hate Earl" Pie.  Though, all is not lost in her world.  The new OB-GYN is Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion), a fumbling mess of a married man who takes a liking for Jenna.  The owner Old Joe (Andy Griffith) is the gruff on the outside, kind on the inside senior citizen who Jenna almost begrudgingly befriends.  Both men change her life.  Dr. Pomatter starts an affair with Jenna, showing her what true passion can be like.  Both Jenna and the Doc know what they are doing is wrong but both seem a bit too helpless in this matter of the heart.  Joe dispenses wisdom to Jenna, truly being her friend.  The film goes to the eventual delivery of the baby and never telegraphs the ending of any of the characters, never shows its cinematic hand.

    One of the most brilliant aspects of Waitress is how well drawn out the characters are.  None of the characters are perfectly good or bad.  Even Earl, the man we a supposed to hate is given some deserved layers of sympathy and pity.  Keri Russell proves with the role of Jenna that she should be an A-list movie star.  With Jenna, Keri plays hard as nails but with a goose down center.  Her character doesn’t ask for sympathy but gets it in droves.  It is wonderful to see Andy Griffith on the Silver Screen.  His character is a world-wearier version of his TV persona, aged over the years.  But the light still burns brightly in his eyes.  But the biggest praises have to go to Jeremy Sisto as Earl.  He is our villain but a character full of condolence.  The audience goes from hating him to empathizing with him in a single scene.  Finding the right balance in a role so extreme is rare and finding an actor who can do it is even rarer.

    Adrienne Shelly is the writer, director, and co-star who excels in all three areas.  There is charm in her character of Dawn and the secondary story of her romance is a sweet sideline to the main plot.  But as a director and writer, the true talent of Adrienne Shelly comes through.  She crafts a world where one can relate to all the characters without falling back on a clichéd pandering.  The fact that the ending is never telegraphed is another aspect of how well made the work of Waitress is placed on the screen.  2007 is half over and Waitress is one of the strongest films released.  It will probably make it on my 10 best list.  So far, it is the only film I have seen twice in a theater.

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