Film Review: Waitress Serves Up a Bittersweet Slice of Life

by McKayle Davison

I went to see Waitress because of Adrienne Shelly. Shelly, the film’s writer, director and co-star, was the star of several independent movies throughout the 1990s and had more recently turned to directing. Her fans were shocked when she was murdered in her New York apartment in November of 2006, while she was still working on this film. I wanted to see her last opus – the project that she had reportedly been pouring her heart and soul into.

Despite the tragic story behind the film, it is uplifting and satisfying, full of knockout performances and sharp dialogue.

Keri Russell stars as a small town waitress named Jenna who is stuck in a dead-end job and abusive marriage. The only thing she has going for her is her ability to use her misery to create unusual pies, such as the “I Hate My Husband Pie” – bittersweet chocolate pudding “drowned” in caramel. She soon finds herself struggling with an unplanned pregnancy, foiling her plan to run away from her husband, Earl.

Jeremy Sisto delivers a great performance as Earl. Sisto, who seems to specialize in playing creeps, doesn’t disappoint as Jenna’s controlling and overbearing husband. He is a complete snake – asking Jenna to agree with him every time he insults her, immediately taking possession of any money she happens to earn, and at times even becoming physically abusive. Sisto makes Earl so repulsive that no one could possibly feel sorry for him when Jenna begins an affair with her married OBGYN, Dr. Pomatter, played by Nathan Fillion.

The energy between Jenna and Dr. Pomatter is deliciously awkward, bringing to mind junior high romances and first loves. Perhaps this is why their affair seems so innocent – the viewer has a hard time stirring up any sympathy for either person’s spouse.

The supporting cast in this film is excellent. Jenna’s bubbly waitress friends, Becky and Dawn, played by Cheryl Hines and Shelly, are the perfect balance to Jenna’s biting wit and help keep the mood light. One of my favorite characters is Old Joe, played by American institution Andy Griffith. As the diner’s owner, he is a stereotypical dirty old man with a heart of gold, and is completely adorable.

Waitress deals with some very real situations, and could easily have taken a depressing turn. Somehow it manages to avoid this, with bright dialogue and cute asides – Jenna’s pie recipes, and her very honest letters to her unborn (and unwanted) baby.

The film is certainly a testament to Shelly. Her writing and direction are outstanding, and her acting is totally charming. It seems fitting that her final work avoids being cheesy or trite and becomes something that we rarely see in today’s cinema – a truly feel-good movie.

(Promotional photos of Kerri Russell in Waitress from Fox Searchlight Pictures.)

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