Keri Russell, Andy Griffith, Adrienne Shelly, Nathan Fillion, Cheryl Hines, Jeremy Sisto
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
"Waitress," the latest and last film from actress/filmmaker Adrienne Shelly, is such a film. "Waitress" is a romantic, spirited, innocent and beautiful film flavored ever-so lightly by sprinklings of tragedy, pain, loss and uncertainty.
In essence, "Waitress" is one of those rare films that truly mirrors the way most of us live our lives.
Starring Keri Russell as Jenna, a beautiful, sweet and caring young waitress married to Earl (Jeremy Sisto), an abusive, controlling and uncomfortably childish man whose demeaning ways have squashed nearly every single one of Jenna's dreams. Jenna's only escape is her pie baking, masterful creations that she concocts each and everyday in the pie shop where she works alongside Dawn (a delightfully mousy Adrienne Shelly) and Becky (Cheryl Hines) along with the shop's manager, Cal (Eddie Jemison) and the shop's owner, Joe (Andy Griffith).
When Jenna ends up pregnant after Earl gets her drunk one night so that she'll have sex with him, all hope is seemingly lost for ever escaping from this abusive marriage. Jenna's seemingly ordinary life is, however, thrown into even more disarray when she falls in love with her OB-GYN (Nathan Fillion), a peaceful yet equally dysfunctional relationship that is a mere band-aid on a gaping wound. Facing an unwanted child, an unhappy marriage and a life of uncertainty, Jenna escapes even deeper into her masterful pastry creations.
Moreso than in any of her previous films, "Waitress" is clearly influenced by Shelly's early work as an actress on two of Hal Hartley's films, "Trust" and "The Unbelievable Truth." Hartley's a master of capturing onscreen the darkly humorous side of everyday life in ways that both defy filmmaking logic and yet more accurately reflect the complexities of simply living from day to day.
So, too, Shelly offers up "Waitress," a beautiful gem of a film that simultaneously brings to mind the old television series, "Alice" while also throwing in memories of not so distant films such as "Chocolat," "Amelie" and even a touch of "Junebug."
"Waitress" is similar in tone to recent hit "Little Miss Sunshine," but has even more in common with the underrated, nearly impossible to market "The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio" in the sense that both films mix together a surprising degree of hopefulness even as logical tells us that hope is nowhere to be found.
Can Jenna possibly find the happiness that seemingly eludes her? Or will she be trapped forever in a loveless, abusive marriage? The dilemma is made particularly poignant when realizing that Shelly herself was murdered November 1, 2006 and this film, her last, is one of 2007's most powerful and beautiful statements on breaking cycles, innocence, violence and, yes, the constant presence of hope.
As wonderful as "Waitress" is, it's hard to deny that the similarity to "Alice" is, at times, distracting as the entire restaurant crew seems an exact replication of Alice, Vera, Flo and Mel. Yet, Shelly's intelligent and sensitive script contains such wonderfully tender and realistic dialogue that by the film's end "Waitress" has truly become its own film.
While other actresses may have more successfully captured the intensity and gravity of "Waitress," it's hard to picture an actress other than Russell so beautifully blending the drama, desperation, hopefulness, sweetness and sensuality of her character. Largely due to Russell's largely understated and balanced performance, Jenna became a woman I was rooting for and found myself cringing each and every time she made another bad decision...by the end, it's practically impossible to not look up at the screen and practically plead "Please. Oh Please. Let her end up happy."
Jeremy Sisto, likewise, is utterly frightening (as he should be) as the abusive, controlling and yet remarkably immature Earl. It would have been easy, especially in a film such as this one, to turn Earl into nothing more than a caricature. Sisto, wisely, brings out Earl's true humanity and a stunning depth of flawed character. Perhaps moreso than at any recent point in a film with a domestic violence theme, "Waitress" truly captures the answer to why women stay with abusive spouses.
In supporting roles, Shelly leaves a beautiful mark on the cinematic world with her sensitive and funny portrayal of Dawn, while, Cheryl Hines brings a hilarious humanity to the brash Becky, who has an affair of her own. Finally, Andy Griffith is a perfect anchor for the film as the persnickety Joe, a man whose kindness and compassion is masked behind irritability galore (think a more "down home" version of Jack Nicholson in "As Good As It Gets").
"Waitress" is a happy film.
No, wait. "Waitress" is a sad film.
"Waitress" is a beautifully designed, tenderly written and sensitively acted film about the bitter and sweet moments of daily life. With insight and humor, Adrienne Shelly's cinematic swansong is, much like Jenna's pies, a masterful creation you will not forget.
"Waitress" captured the Audience Award for Best Feature during the 2007 Indianapolis International Film Festival, where the film played just 2 days before its limited opening in New York and Los Angeles before going nationwide on Mother's Day weekend.
While the rest of the world sees "Spider-Man 3," do yourself a favor and see the best film being served up this weekend..."Waitress."
- Richard Propes
The Independent Critic