Waitress: Oddball Romantic Comedy Is A Bittersweet Legacy!

Waitress StillIt’s hard to watch Waitress – a sweet but never cloying, oddball romantic comedy without thinking that its writer/director, Adrienne Shelley was murdered before she had a chance to see it wow the, at Sundance…

Jenna [Keri Russell] is married to abusive, controlling Earl [Jeremy Sisto], who is so repellant that he has to get her drunk to have sex with her. Unfortunately, the one time this happens, she gets pregnant. When she visits her doctor, she discovers that she’s now semi-retired and the handsome Dr. Pomatter [Nathan Fillion] will be handling her pregnancy. Pomatter, it turns out, has the respect for people that Earl does not, and after only a few kind words, Jenna literally jumps him – despite noticing the wedding band on his left hand..

During the day, Jenna works at Joe’s Pies Diner, where they have pies for every meal – twenty-seven pies on the menu plus one that she invents every day. Her pies have names that are inspired by whatever she’s going through that day – so the day that she discovers she’s pregnant, the pie is called the “I Don’t Want To Have Earl’s Baby Pie” [but since that’s a bit long for the menu, she settles for “Bad Baby Pie”].

Waitress Still

Jenna’s fellow waitresses, Becky [Cheryl Hines] and Dawn [Adrienne Shelley], are the only ones she trust with the news of her pregnancy, but crusty old Joe [Andy Griffith], the diner’s owner, figures it out all by himself. While Becky and Dawn support Jenna unreservedly, Joe is the gadfly who calls her on her affair and plays a key role in big developments later…

As subplots, we get Dawn’s five-minute date that turns into something else entirely, and Becky’s affair with the least likely suspect. Each of these subplots exists to show Jenna that it is possible to make choices that will ultimately result in some small amount of happiness – something she has long since forgotten.

Waitress Still

Shelley’s extremely smart script [and some equally excellent casting choices] make such things as Jenna’s affair, and the Joe-as-Deus Ex Machina plot point work. While the film is unreeling, we don’t feel that what’s going on is necessarily wrong but, at a certain point, Shelley makes that point without belittling any of her characters.

Keri Russell is luminous as Jenna and Nathan Fillion is just right as the slightly non-plussed Pomatter. It’s a mystery as to why neither of these actors is a huge star [though Waitress could, conceivably help that make happen]. As the emotional core of the film, they turn in exquisite, note-perfect performances.

As writer, Shelley used silences as well as anyone since Woody Allen. There are scenes in which an extra couple beats of silence say more than words ever could. Her pacing is also key – Waitress never lags; never gives too much space to allow the audience to drift – and her comic timing is perfection. Waitress will last. It’s a fitting legacy for a filmmaker who should still be with us.

Grade: A


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